The PJ Tatler

Senate Unemployment Insurance Bill Passes, Throwing Curve at GOP in Election Season

Senate Democrats gained enough Republican support to push a five-month extension of long-term unemployment insurance through the upper chamber on Monday, plunking the assistance bill unpopular with House GOPs in the lower chamber seven months before midterms.

It seemed that a compromise would be unworkable after the 2008 recession-era benefits providing assistance to those searching for work for up to 99 weeks expired on Dec. 31.

Republicans protested a lack of pay-fors, while Democrats seized on the GOP block of the bill to paint the right as not caring about workers in an election-year.

Six Senate GOPs — Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) — helped Dems finally move the legislation in a 59-38 vote, making the fourth time the charm. The bill was co-sponsored by Heller and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

Heller said Nevada’s unemployment rate “remains one of the highest in the nation, which means this extension cannot wait any longer.”

“It has been three months since emergency unemployment benefits expired for the millions of people actively searching for work,” the senator continued. “Through no fault of their own, American job seekers have been wondering how they will cover their mortgage, pay their utilities, fill up their car with gas, and put food on the table for their families.”

The bill allows for retroactive payments dating back to December and pays for the legislation through a combination of offsets that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill, which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024.

The price tag on the benefits extension is nearly $10 billion. A Fox News poll taken in January found 69 percent supporting an extension to at least a year, far past the current 26 weeks.

“Today the Senate acted in a bipartisan way to reinstate emergency unemployment insurance for 2.3 million Americans who depend on it as they search for work. As I’ve said time and again, Washington needs to put politics aside and help these hard-working, responsible Americans make ends meet and support their families as they look for a job,” President Obama said in a statement. “Each week Congress fails to act on this crucial issue, roughly 70,000 long-term unemployed Americans lose their vital economic lifeline.”

“I urge House Republicans to stop blocking a bipartisan compromise that would stem this tide, take up the bill without delay, and send it to my desk,” he added. “Let’s remove this needless drag on our economy and focus on expanding opportunity for all Americans.”

“There is a strong bipartisan majority for passage in the House. It is now up to Speaker Boehner to respond to the will of the American people, who understand that people who are unemployed don’t want to be unemployed,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said on the Senate floor. “The unemployed in this country are suffering. They suffered for too long. The job growth that has come as a result following the recession has been weak. And the least we can do is respond.”

As Democrats laid pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to bring the bill up for a vote, a handful of Republicans did the same.

GOP Reps. Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Peter King (N.Y.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.) and Joe Heck (Nev.) wrote to party leaders asking for vote on the bill.

“As many Americans continue to struggle without benefits, we respectfully request that the House immediately consider this bill or a similar measure to restore unemployment benefits to struggling Americans,” they asked of the Speaker.

But House leadership is, for now, holding to its demands that any extension of the unemployment insurance include job-creating measures such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline or Obamacare fixes.

“As the Speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs — but, last week, Senate Democratic Leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement. “The American people are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses.”

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared it’s “time for House Republicans to drop their immoral, unconscionable opposition to the UI extension.”

“Instead, Republicans have decided to leave more than two million men and women out in the cold – with thousands joining their ranks each day. These Americans worked hard, played by the rules, and lost their jobs through no fault of their own. As they seek new work, they’ve lost an essential lifeline to help them endure the crisis of unemployment, to ensure they can pay the bills, cover the mortgage, put food on the table, and make ends meet. As long as Republicans refuse to act, our economy will lose jobs, and consumers and businesses will suffer,” Pelosi said.

“Democrats have offered our Republican colleagues multiple opportunities to do the right thing and restore UI. We have put forward a petition to demand a vote on this measure immediately. But Republicans still say ‘no.’ With the Senate’s action today, there is no excuse for inaction. It’s long past time to renew UI.”

If all House Democrats voted for the Senate bill — and Blue Dogs generally peel away from Pelosi’s caucus on pricey bills with questions about pay-fors — 19 Republicans would be needed for passage.

Campaign challengers quickly jumped on the vote, as well, with Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes slamming Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for voting against the bill. “Voters in the Commonwealth are faced with a double insult from their senior senator — no plan to create jobs and no assistance if you lost one,” she said in a statement.