H.R. 6556 Was Likely the Last Chance This Year to Help 99ers; Next Year Looks Even Less Promising

The latest legislative effort to move forward 99er unemployment legislation, H.R. 6556, appears to be at a crossroads, but more realistically -- a dead end. On background, a congressional staffer indicated that Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) were hoping that their bill would be taken out of committee and voted on before the end of this current congressional session. Unfortunately, while the issue was raised with House leadership, there is no guarantee that this legislation will be taken out of committee and moved forward before Congress adjourns for the year.

This important piece of legislation would have added 14 weeks of Tier 1 benefits for all unemployed individuals, including 99ers. Representatives Scott and Lee want all unemployed to be covered under this legislation. The staffer offered that a majority of the Congress would support this bill, but that it would require 60 votes in the Senate.

This stand-alone bill would cost approximately $15-16 billion dollars, according to a CBO analyst. That's a relatively small amount considering that millions of people would be helped, including millions of 99ers who have exhausted their unemployment benefits. 99ers began exhausting all benefits in March 2010. Estimates of the current 99er population range from 3-5 million and that population is expected to grow considerably during 2011.

According to OpenCongress.org, H.R. 6556:

Would add 14 weeks to Tier I of federal extended unemployment benefits and make the extra weeks available retroactively to people who have exhausted all their benefits and are still unemployed. (For now, the text of the bill can be read at PDF)

The staffer indicated that in an ideal world this legislation would be voted on. When asked what he would recommend individuals do to move this legislation forward, he said that calling their own congressional representatives is very effective. Another option is to meet face-to-face with their representatives to make a personal appeal. While both Representative Scott and Lee appreciate the calls of encouragement, those calls would be better directed to other congressional representatives who need to be brought on board to pass the legislation.

A startling revelation about H.R.6556 is its relatively low cost compared to the $26 billion in taxpayer money that was lost when Congress and the President decided to raise the estate tax floor from $3.5 million to $5 million. That change helped 6,600 estates save more than $3 million each. Yet a cost of $16 billion to help millions of unemployed is deemed too expensive by many in Congress, especially Republicans. How Congress can jump to give multimillionaires more in tax breaks than they are willing to give 15 million unemployed is revealing.

If the bill is not brought forward this year, the sponsors hope to address the legislation again during the next session of Congress. The next session of Congress, the 112th, convenes on January 5, but it will look much different from the current Congress. Republicans and Tea Partiers will be in the majority and will control House committee assignments as well as which legislation is considered. If the past is any indication Republicans are not likely to support a Democratic bill extending benefits beyond the current state maximums, which range from 60 to 99 weeks depending on the state unemployment rate.

A number of Republicans have stated that the long-term unemployed are "lazy, drug-addicted hobos". With that insulting description of those who have suffered most during this prolonged jobless recession, the growing ranks of 99ers stand little chance of being helped.

While it's extremely doubtful that H.R. 6556 bill will move forward this year, congressional member phone calls and visits do put pressure on Congress to act on legislation. As the staffer indicated, if people want this bill to pass, they need to "light-up the switchboards"; it will get the attention of Congress, but it needs to happen quickly.