Unemployment Extension Fight Likely To Happen Yet Again
The Senate is currently in the midst of passing for the third time a short-term reauthorization of enhanced unemployment benefits and other domestic aid programs that first neared expiration in December -- and this might not be the last time, either.
Both the House and Senate have already passed bills that would provide much longer extensions, but with different sources of funding. The two chambers need to combine their different bills in a conference committee, and then each needs to have another vote on the combined bill.
A Democratic aide told HuffPost that Senate leadership is planning to get to work on that between four and six weeks from now -- probably after the 30-day extension currently on the table will have expired -- which means the current fight pitting deficit reduction against the needs of the unemployed could happen again.
"It's an absolute waste of time," said Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project who has been pulling her hair out every month or so since December (in February, she called the Democrats' strategy "a disaster for everybody").
"Unemployed workers can't keep dealing with this stop-and-start at the end of the month," Conti continued. "I know there's nominations, I know there's financial reform, but this is something that should have been taken care of last October."
The measures in question provide another month of eligibility for up to 53 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits on top of the initial 26 weeks provided by states, as well a 65-percent subsidy of COBRA health insurance premiums and also a reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program. All of those lapsed on April 5 after Congress adjourned for its Easter break, obstructing real estate deals in areas that require flood insurance and causing laid-off workers to miss unemployment checks.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blamed Republicans Tuesday for "leaving the unemployed out to dry." Sen. Chuck Schumber (N.Y.), the third-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said that he hopes to pass the long-term extension this work period -- which means before the next recess, which is seven weeks from now.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) introduced an amendment Tuesday that would extend the expiring programs for an additional month, through the end of May, which would prevent another fight from breaking out 30 days from now. Republicans are offering amendments to offset the $9 billion cost of the extension with unused stimulus funds set aside for future projects. If the bill is amended, its passage would be slowed because the House would need to vote on it again.
The NELP estimates that more than 200,000 people lose access to their jobless benefits every week after the lapse.
Despite that, Democrats seem to relish these unemployment squabbles. While Republicans objected to motions for "unanimous consent" that would have allowed a speedy reauthorization back in March, the GOP's point-man on deficit reduction, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said at the time he thought some Republicans would defect and allow the bill to pass if Reid brought it up for a vote. Instead, Democrats voted to adjourn and let the programs lapse, saying they didn't have 60 votes to break Coburn's filibuster. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said the break provided "momentum" to win the needed Republican support.
On Monday, four Republicans broke ranks to vote in favor of debating the bill, clearing the way for a final vote that may happen Thursday.