Democrat Gazette Press Services
A bill to extend jobless benefits for three months was defeated in the House on Thursday, threatening to cut off aid to thousands of the nation’s long-term unemployed.
Republicans, in a replay of a dispute earlier this year, blocked the legislation because its $12 billion cost would be added to the government’s deficit. They demanded offsetting savings elsewhere in the budget.
“This bill is like deja vu all over again, and not in a good way,” said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. “We all want to help those in need, but the American people also know someone has to pay when government spends money, and it shouldn’t be our children and grandchildren.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen , DMd., said, “Ending unemployment assistance will not only be devastating for these individuals and their families, but it will also hurt the economy as a whole by undermining consumer confidence and demand.”
About 8,400 Americans will see their unemployment checks cut off by the end of the first week of December, according to Labor Department estimates. By the end of the third week of December, 1.36 million Americans will be affected if Congress doesn’t act, the agency said.
The unemployment rate last month was 9.6 percent. Jobless benefits were cut off earlier this year for some unemployed people after a similar dispute in the Senate led by Republican Jim Bunning of Kentucky.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., promised to bring the measure back to the floor after Thanksgiving to try to enact an emergency measure to extend benefits at least through Christmas. But Senate Democrats don’t have time;instead, they hope the jobless benefits issue gets addressed in year-end negotiations over taxes and other important legislation.
Rep. Mike Pence, the No. 3 Republican in the House, said, “We’re facing a fiscal crisis in this country. If we’re going to choose to extend unemployment again, we’ve got to find a way to pay for it.”
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., said: “It’s just inconceivable that in the last gasp of this Congress you would turn all your attention to the top 2 percent of wage earners in the country at the same time that middle class families are struggling to hold their families together because of prolonged unemployment.”
The additional jobless benefits programs began in 2008 under President George W.Bush but were made more generous under last year’s economic recovery act. Jobless people are now eligible for up to 99 weeks of benefits in most states. The first 26 weeks of benefits are paid for by states. About 3.8 million are now drawing those state-paid benefits.
Democrats argue that the extended benefits should be paid for with deficit spending because it injects money into the economy. Jobless people immediately spend the cash, they explain.
$1.1 TRILLION BILL
The top Republican in the Senate on Thursday came out against Democratic-led efforts to pass a $1 trillion-plus spending bill to mop up Washington’s unfinished budget work before the current session of Congress ends.
“If this election showed us anything, it’s that Americans don’t want Congress passing massive trillion dollar bills that have been thrown together behind closed doors,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “They want us to do business differently.”
Democrats don’t have the votes to advance the idea inthe lame-duck session without Republican help.
House Democrats and a bipartisan group of Senate staff aides have been working to assemble a $1.1 trillion “omnibus” measure to fund the government’s day-to-day operations, at least in part because they were given tacit approval by McConnell to do so. But the results of the Nov. 2 election and opposition to an omnibus by House GOP leaders made the idea unpalatable.
The Senate hasn’t passed a single spending bill for the budget year that began almost two months ago and ends in September. Ten of 12 House bills haven’t even been made public.
Congress needs to pass a stopgap spending bill by Dec. 3 to avoid a shutdown of most of the government. A leading idea is to fund the government at current budget levels through February and let the next Congress sort it out.
Starting from scratch next year would set the stage for a pitched battle in the new Congress between the GOP dominated House and a Senate and White House still under Democratic control.
Another option, backed by the White House, is to simply pass a catchall bill funding most programs at current levels through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year. House Republicans could then try to pass legislation cutting spending below those levels, though they would run into roadblocks with Democrats.
WORK FROM HOME
The bureaucratic halls of Washington could get a little quieter under legislation that encourages federal agencies to let more employees work from home.
The bill, passed by the House on Thursday and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, instructs each federal agency to come up with policies to promote telecommuting. The goal is to significantly increase the 5 percent of the federal work force now engaged in some level of teleworking. The vote was 254-152. Among Arkansas’ delegation, Democrats Snyder and Ross backed the bill, while Berry opposed it. Republican Boozman was listed as “not voting.”
“It creates a nimbleness on the part of the federal government with respect to how the work force operates,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., the lead sponsor. He and other supporters said it would increase productivity, improve morale, help the government recruit the best people, reduce traffic congestion and make the environment cleaner.
The legislation directs the Office of Personnel Management to come up with teleworking guidelines and requires agencies to establish policies within six months under which employees may be authorized to telework.
Agencies must designate a telework managing officer and must seek to better integrate teleworking into Continuity of Operations Planning, procedures for keeping the government operating during emergencies.
Republicans, who overwhelmingly voted against the measure, cited the $28 million implementation cost over five years. Rep. Virginia Foxx, RN.C., said it would “make it easier for federal employees who already had it much better than the rest of the country to avoid the office.”
But supporters said it would save the government millions by reducing needed office space and improving productivity. They cited estimates that telecommuting saved the government $30 million a day last winter when the capital region was paralyzed by a snowstorm.
Information for this article was contributed by Brian Faler of Bloomberg News and by Andrew Taylor and Jim Abrams of The Associated Press.