WASHINGTON -- After some encouraging signs that Republicans might cooperate with them, the two House Democrats trying to give the long-term jobless extra weeks of unemployment benefits are dismayed the GOP has instead moved a bill that could take benefits away.
Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) want to give the long-term unemployed another 14 weeks of unemployment insurance. In a remarkable April meeting, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) encouraged them to work with Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees unemployment insurance.
Instead, Camp is pursuing a bill that would give states the option to spend federal unemployment dollars on paying down debt instead of paying for extended unemployment benefits.
“Instead of acting on our bill to extend aid to unemployed workers who have exhausted their benefits, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Camp wants to gut unemployment benefits and deny millions of jobless workers the means to help make ends meet," Lee and Scott said in a statement. "As we face an unemployment rate of 9 percent nationwide, an unemployment rate for teenagers three times as high as the national average, and an economy where there are 4.4 unemployed workers for every available job opening, it is simply wrong to propose a bill that would further penalize unemployed workers across the country.”
Camp's office declined to comment. Ways and Means will vote on Camp's bill on Wednesday.
Federal extensions of jobless aid have given the unemployed access to 99 weeks of benefits in the states with the worst jobs markets. The Lee-Scott bill would give another 14 weeks of benefits to anyone who's been unemployed longer than six months, so it would benefit Nebraskans who'd exhausted the 60 weeks of benefits they are allotted and Californians who'd run through their 99 weeks alike.
But the bill would cost roughly $16 billion, which makes it a non-starter for Republicans. Lee and Camp at one point broke with Democratic doctrine and said they'd be willing to offset the cost with budget cuts, but they have not followed through with any proposed cuts.
The White House has estimated that 4 million people will run out of jobless aid without finding work this year.