WASHINGTON -- The Democrats in the House of Representatives who are pushing for additional jobless aid for the long-term unemployed say they are willing to compromise with Republican leadership on cutting spending from the budget to prevent the cost of new benefits from adding to the deficit.
In a Wednesday letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) wrote, "We want to work with you to identify how best to finance this legislation and ensure its swift passage."
Earlier this year, Lee and Scott introduced legislation to give the long-term unemployed an additional 14 weeks of benefits. Their bill, which Lee's office estimates would add roughly $16 billion to the deficit, went nowhere in the midst of a Republican budget-cutting frenzy. Now Lee and Scott are offering to forgo the "emergency" designation that would exempt the legislation from new "pay-as-you-go" House rules, which require any new spending to be offset by cuts from elsewhere in the budget. They say they want to work with Republicans on figuring out what to cut.
"To be clear, we maintain our position that this legislation deserves to exempt from PAYGO spending rules under the aforementioned emergency designation, but we are committed to exhausting every possible avenue to pass this bill," Lee and Scott wrote.
When they first introduced their bill, which targets "99ers" but would give the extra weeks to anyone out of work longer than six months, a House Republican aide scoffed: "If you're serious about helping Americans on unemployment, you need to show how you'll pay for the cost with cuts elsewhere."
House Republican leadership offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Lee-Scott letter from HuffPost.
The "99ers" are Americans who haven't found work after exhausting the maximum 99 weeks of benefits that have been available in about half the states for the past 16 months. The Congressional Research Service estimated that as of October, 1.4 million people had been out of work for 99 weeks, though some may have received fewer weeks' worth of benefits while others may have since found work.
For the past half-century, Congress has routinely granted the unemployed additional weeks of benefits during recessions to complement the standard 26 weeks provided by states. Most of the time -- but not every time -- additional weeks of benefits have been paid for with deficit spending. Occasionally, they've been paid for with tax hikes, but not with spending cuts.
While it's unlikely that Republicans and Democrats will find much agreement on $16 billion in cuts for extra weeks of unemployment benefits, the compromise offer breaks with Democrats' insistence over the past year that jobless aid doesn't need to be "paid for." Democrats have objected to paying for benefits because economists say deficit spending on unemployment insurance serves to pump money into the economy, as the jobless quickly spend their $300 weekly benefits.
"When 13.9 million people in this nation are unemployed, and with approximately 1 in 10 workers under-employed at this moment, it defies logic to say that we do not have a national emergency that demands to be treated as such," emailed Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project, a group that advocates on worker issues. "That being said, if the two parties can identify appropriate cuts that do no harm to our much-needed safety net, and do not add more workers to the ranks of the unemployed, AND which do not take place for at least 3 more years so as not to offset the stimulative effect of unemployment insurance, then it is a compromise worth considering."
Economist Mark Zandi, a former campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has said offsetting benefits with immediate spending cuts would be counterproductive, but that offsetting benefits with future cuts would not.
Here's the letter:
Dear Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Cantor, and Chairman Camp:
Once again we want to express our deep concern for the plight of millions of long-term unemployed workers across the country. Last week’s unemployment numbers reflect the harsh reality that still exists – while the economy is moving in the right direction, too many workers are still looking for jobs. For every available job opening, there are 4.7 unemployed workers. And many of those workers have been unemployed for a year or longer.
The unemployment rate does not discriminate – the challenges that our constituents face in our districts are just as difficult as the challenges that your constituents are facing in western Ohio, central Virginia and central Michigan. We all have a shared obligation to help our neediest and most vulnerable populations in their hour of greatest need.
The letter we sent you last month requested your assistance in extending emergency benefits for long-term unemployed workers who had exhausted their eligibility. In addition, we requested that these benefits be considered under the emergency designation of PAYGO spending rules, a provision that would exempt emergencies from these rules.
We are disappointed that you disagreed with our belief that this is a true state of emergency for these workers. As we outlined in our previous letter, we believe there is a strong moral and economic case to extend these emergency benefits. Economic experts believe that unemployment benefits provide a stimulative impact to our economy by helping to drive consumer spending. So not only is providing these benefits the right thing to do, but it is sound economic policy.
To be clear, we maintain our position that this legislation deserves to exempt from PAYGO spending rules under the aforementioned emergency designation, but we are committed to exhausting every possible avenue to pass this bill.
Adding an additional 14 weeks to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program is estimated to cost up to $16 billion. We want to work with you to identify how best to finance this legislation and ensure its swift passage.
We request a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss alternative ways to address the costs associated with H.R. 589, The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act. We hope that you share our urgent desire to move forward on passing this legislation. There are dire consequences for millions of long-term unemployed workers who are fighting every day to make ends meet so they can support their families. It is time to get serious about taking care of our long-term unemployed workers who continue to suffer.
We look forward to your response and are hopeful that we can meet with you in the near future to discuss the importance of this bill and our plan to pass it.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this request.