WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate passed a bill reauthorizing long-term unemployment insurance on Monday, with Democrats hoping the vote will increase pressure on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to move the bill through his chamber.
Boehner has said the bill fails to create jobs and is "unworkable," partly because state unemployment agencies will have trouble finding all the people who've missed out on the benefits since they lapsed in December. On Monday evening, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel reiterated those same concerns.
"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," Steel said. "The American people are still asking, 'Where are the jobs?’ and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses."
The Congressional Budget Office has said repeatedly that emergency unemployment benefits boost jobs because claimants plow their benefits directly into necessities such as food and shelter. Nevertheless, Boehner and other House Republicans would rather see jobs come from business-friendly Republican-sponsored measures. Steel's statement suggests Boehner is unmoved by the Senate's action.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), one of the five Senate Republicans who cosponsored the bill that passed on Monday, told Politico he had asked his staff to schedule a meeting with Boehner. The meeting has yet to be scheduled.
To win Republican support, Senate Democrats incorporated several of their ideas in its bill, including a ban on millionaires receiving benefits and "enhanced, personalized assessments and referrals to reemployment services."
As it routinely does in recessions, Congress gave the long-term jobless extra weeks of federally funded benefits starting in 2008. When apathetic lawmakers let the compensation lapse in December, 1.3 million workers immediately stopped receiving benefits. Each week since then, another 70,000 workers would have been eligible for assistance after exhausting state-funded benefits, which last six months in most states. Theoretically, all those people would receive lump-sum checks for the weeks they missed.
Democrats say that it's too soon to withdraw help for people unemployed six months or longer, who numbered 3.7 million in March. Even though their ranks have declined by a million since last year, the average unemployment spell had dragged on for 35 weeks.
Seven House Republicans asked Boehner last week to consider the Senate legislation. If all 199 Democrats in the House supported a bill, they would need 19 Republicans to join them for a simple majority.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), a member of the House GOP leadership team, told Roll Call last week that leaders hadn't decided how to respond to the Senate bill. "There will be a conversation. We’re waiting to see what the Senate actually passes," she said.