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Americans Want to Work Act, for 99ers, Fails in Senate

Today, Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) took to the Senate floor to argue for the Americans Want to Work Act, a bill extending the maximum number of weeks of unemployment insurance benefits to 119. The legislation also extends the HIRE Act payroll tax exemption and doubles a tax credit for businesses that hire unemployed workers.

Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fl.) objected to Stabenow’s unanimous consent request on behalf of Republicans, blocking the bill from moving forward. LeMieux said the bill did not detail its pay-fors, and that the GOP would not support a bill that increases the deficit. Democrats argued that the bill constitutes emergency spending and therefore does not need offsets.

Stabenow focused the economics of the situation. In states like Michigan, unemployment is well into the double digits, and most unemployed workers have been out of a job for six months or more — making it much harder to find work. Nationally, five workers are competing for every job opening. Unemployment insurance benefits are one of the most stimulative forms of government spending. The extension, Stabenow argued, would be worth it. Whitehouse similarly said that not passing the bill would be “heartless,” given the families suffering with no source of income.

But Republicans remained unmoved. Stabenow promised to keep fighting for the long-term unemployed. But with the block, it seems unlikely that Tier V legislation will come up again anytime soon.

The block also augurs yet another fight over the reauthorization of federally extended unemployment insurance benefits. On Nov. 30, those expire, and Republicans will likely force Democrats to find offsets to continue them.

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