As the last unemployment benefits measure, which was passed by Congress in July, ends on Nov. 30, the financial lifeline that is helping keep millions of unemployed workers solvent will expire. In the five weeks that lead up to the new year, an estimated 2 million long-term unemployed individuals will see their benefits cut off. Some will join the 99ers, their benefits completely exhausted through the four-Tier emergency and extension benefits categories (dependent upon the states they live in). Others will go into a congressional-induced limbo that is at the mercy of bill introduction, legislative passage, and the politics that go with a lame duck session of Congress.
Still, according to OpenCongress.org, there may be some hope that unemployment benefits extensions might find renewal in the coming weeks, but the window of opportunity for passage within the year is terribly narrow.
The Democrats are going to try to push through anything they can while they still have a majority in the House of Representatives. They are also cognizant that whatever goes through must also meet approval in the U. S. Senate. With the swearing in of Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) on Monday (another Republican refusing to countenance unemployment benefits extensions unless they’re offset), the Democratic majority in the Senate shrank to 58. Unless Republicans get what they want in the form of a tradeoff in government spending (most likely unused stimulus money) or an offset via an acquired revenue source, a filibuster would be imminent.
One piece of legislation that could take the issue off the national legislative table for a year went before the Senate Monday evening. Rep. Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced a bill (S.3981), which is designed to allow for unemployment benefits extensions for a full year. However, the bill does not provide for an offset, meaning that it will meet resistance. It also doesn’t provide for a Tier V, an additional Tier of benefits sought for by unemployed workers (the so-called “99ers”) who have been out of work past the exhaustion of their regular and extended benefits.
According to The Hill, Baucus said the Senate would attempt to move on the bill quickly. Baucus also noted that the measure, which is expected to cost $56.4 billion, would provide the best economic stimulus going into the Christmas holidays.
Republicans are already lining up to knock the bill down. Susan Collins (R-ME), who was one of the few Republicans willing to compromise during the negotiations over the last bill, told The Hill she had problems with the Baucus bill not being offset and its duration.
Senator Ben Nelson (D-NB), the Democrats’ past lone defector that made the Republican filibusters somewhat easier, voiced the same concerns: “I think that there’s a point in which, and I don’t think it’s now, that you just can’t keep extending. At some point, you can’t keep adding to the debt.”
Still, there could be one way Democrats could get the year-long extension and not have the bill paid for up front. The Bush tax cuts, set to expire at year’s end, have been a point of major contention for months. Many political analysts believe that the Democrats, who originally only wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts to those income-earners making $250,000 or less, will offer the Republicans, who wanted the Bush tax cuts to include all tax cuts for income earners above and below the demarcation line set by the Democrats, the deal of total tax cuts extensions for at least a year in order to get their cooperation on the unemployment benefits extension measure.
In short, as it stands, the Baucus unemployment extensions proposal will not make it out of the Senate. And it will then have to get through the House.
On the other side of Congress, an extension proposal was voted down in the House on Nov. 18. It too failed due to having no provisions for offset. Democrats are working to put the measure back before the House with a suspension of regular voting procedures (which takes a two-thirds majority vote to pass). Resubmission under suspended rules would require only a simple majority vote for passage.
The last time Congress debated the unemployment benefits extension issue, the long-term jobless went without benefits for over 50 days before Congress could agree and pass the legislation that ends Nov. 30. With job prospects low and the coldest part of the year imminent in much of the United States, not to mention the added emotional and psychological burden of the upcoming holidays, can the unemployed reasonably expect Congress to move quickly enough to see the restoration of benefits before the end of the year?
Donny Shaw, “Unemployment Benefits Expire: What Will Congress Do?”, OpenCongress.org
Vicki Needham, “Sen. Baucus makes eleventh-hour push for extended unemployment package,” TheHill.com