Many Republicans in the House are opposed to another extension of unemployment benefits, while others are demanding a dollar for dollar swap for budget cuts before such a measure were approved.
Facing a divided caucus, Speaker John Boehner says he’s open to an extension “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again.” Boehner has not been specific about what those efforts might be, but approval of the Keystone pipeline could be in the mix.
But with stiffening opposition to an extension from the right, Boehner may not bring the measure to the floor for a vote at all.
“Despite a dozen extensions, academic research suggests the program has actually hurt, rather than helped, the job creation that the unemployed need most,” Michelle Dimarob, spokesperson for Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said Friday in a statement.
“It is time to focus on policies that will actually lead to real economic opportunities for families who are trying to get back on their feet and back into the workplace.”
The comments came as President Obama and congressional Democrats are amplifying their pressure on Boehner to extend the benefits to the long-term unemployed who have exhausted their state help.
An estimated 1.3 million unemployed workers lost those benefits on Dec. 28, after GOP leaders rejected the Democrats’ efforts to extend the help as part of a bipartisan budget deal.
The debate will intensify next week, with Senate Democrats planning a vote on a three-month renewal.
Sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the proposal would not offset the estimated $6.4 billion in costs, setting the stage for a potential showdown with Boehner and the Republicans if the bill is sent to the House.
Rhode Island and Nevada have the highest unemployment rates in the country, at 9 percent in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It remains unclear if Boehner and the Republicans will consider the issue.
A memo released by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) Friday outlining the GOP’s legislative agenda for January does not mention unemployment insurance.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Senate passage of a bill could put Boehner under more pressure to bring up the measure, but he cast doubt on its chances. Van Hollen noted that GOP leaders last month rejected his proposal, sponsored with Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), to extend UI benefits by three months and offset the costs by reducing farm subsidies.
“The Speaker refused to allow a vote at that time,” Van Hollen told MSNBC Friday. “So our hope is that a push from the Senate will get things moving in the House, but the jury is still out.”
Reid may, indeed, force Boehner’s hand by handing the issue off to the House after Senate passage. But if he actually wants to pass an extension, rather than simply embarrass Republicans, he’s going to have to compromise:
“If the Senator comes up with any kind of a reasonable idea to offset the $26 billion, I think that he might find some people that are willing to talk to him,” Salmon said. But he added that Congress should be dealing with the root cause of unemployment by passing one of the many jobs bills the Republican-controlled House has sent to the Senate, including approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Salmon was echoing House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has said it is incumbent on President Obama to come up with a way to pay for the extension of benefits if he wants the GOP to consider it.
King didn’t agree with Salmon that every dollar of a benefits extension would need to be offset, but he did say that “there has to be some compromise coming from the Democrats.”
“I would like to find a way to get a compromise, to extend unemployment insurance at least for a brief period of time. But at the same time, the Democrats should make compromises as far as burdensome regulations and attempt to unleash the economy. Because the ultimate answer is not unemployment insurance. The ultimate answer is more jobs,” he said.
Boehner doesn’t want to do anything to take the focus off of the Democrats and the failure of Obamacare. This will be a constant theme from now until November as the Democrats will seek to distract the public from the Obamacare debacle by raising issues like the minimum wage, “inequality,” and more of the “War on Women” so beloved of liberals.
Boehner has to weigh the chance that his fractured caucus will splinter over votes on an increase in the minimum wage and an extension of unemployment benefits against the political opening he will leave Democrats if he doesn’t take them up at all. It’s a delicate balance that could impact the GOP’s chances for the mid term elections.