Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked legislation early Thursday morning that would provide additional benefits to the long-term unemployed.
The House is currently debating a "continuing resolution" that will fund government operations through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, in lieu of a formal budget. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) attempted to amend the CR with her provision to provide another 14 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits for people who've been out of work for six months or longer.
In remarks on the House floor after midnight, Lee noted, as HuffPost did earlier this week, that her amendment to the CR is the only one of the hundreds proposed that addresses the jobs crisis.
"Of the nearly 600 amendments to the continuing resolution that have been proposed or considered so far, this amendment is the only one, mind you, that deals with the problem of the unemployed directly," Lee said. "Don't resort to parliamentary maneuvers to block help to the unemployed."
Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) then used a parliamentary maneuver to successfully block the amendment.
"An amendment to an appropriation bill shall not be in order in changing existing law," said Rehberg. "The amendment directly changes existing law."
The amendment, based on a bill introduced by Lee and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), would modify the tax-cut deal that President Barack Obama struck with congressional Republicans in December. That deal reauthorized tax cuts for the rich for two years and 73 weeks of federal benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.
The Lee-Scott measure is aimed at "99ers" -- people who have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of state and federal unemployment benefits without finding work -- but it would add the extra 14 weeks of benefits to the first "tier" of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which kicks in when state benefits run out after 26 weeks. The benefits would apply retroactively, so 99ers who ran out of benefits weeks or months ago would start receiving checks again.
Even if it reached the floor for a vote, the measure would probably fail: Republicans are in a budget-cutting frenzy and the Lee-Scott bill would add something like $16 billion to the deficit. Lee has said she would consider funding cuts to offset the bill's deficit impact, but even a deficit-neutral proposal to help the unemployed would face tough sledding.
Several 99ers have told HuffPost over the past several months that they appreciate legislation addressing their situation even if it has no chance of becoming law. "I'm happy for the effort," 99er Stuart Koplowitz told HuffPost last week. "I'm happy representatives like Barbara Lee keep bringing it up, keeping it as a subject, not letting it get lost in the background."
The Congressional Research Service estimated that there are roughly 1.4 million Americans who have been unemployed for 99 weeks or longer as of October. The National Employment Law Project estimates that 3.9 million people exhausted their benefits in 2010, though not all of them received 99 weeks' worth and not all of them necessarily remain jobless.
"Congress has missed another opportunity to show that it cares about those who have been hit hardest by the recession," said Judy Conti, a NELP lobbyist. "It seems that the callous attitude of "so be it" with respect to the unemployed is shared by far too many."
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) immediately denounced Rehberg's point of order, as did Lee.
"That's really a shame and a disgrace," Lee said.
Courtesy of C-Span, video of the exchange appears below:
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