CHN: Millions Running Out of Jobless Benefits: House Takes Strong Vote to Help
With 324,000 jobs lost over the past 5 months and the unemployment rate taking the biggest one-month jump in 22 years, the House voted twice in two days on legislation to extend jobless benefits for people who have exhausted state unemployment insurance. On the first try, the speedy move to the floor meant a two-thirds vote was needed for passage. That attempt fell short by 3 votes. Then on June 12 the House went through the procedural steps so that only a simple majority would pass the unemployment insurance (UI) extension. This time, the bill passed 274 to 137 (http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll412.xml .) Well exceeding the simple majority needed, the outcome was exactly two-thirds of those present and voting. Since two-thirds will be required to override an anticipated Presidential veto, the vote was heartening to those who recognize the growing urgency of helping the long-term unemployed.
Still, the path towards final enactment is blocked by a bramble of complications. The Senate still prefers to include the UI extension in the supplemental spending bill, the majority of which funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having recently voted 75 to 22 to pass a supplemental spending bill that included unemployment insurance and a number of other domestic items in addition to the war funding, the Senate feels confident it can override a threatened veto. (The President objects to the domestic provisions, including UI; by vetoing the bill, he anticipates Congress will have to strip out most of the domestic items and send him the war funding he wants. For more information about the supplemental spending bill and its domestic provisions, see the May 23 Human Needs Report, athttp://www.chn.org/humanneeds/080523a.html.)
The House leadership is far less confident it can come up with two-thirds to override a veto of the supplemental spending bill. In the House, if some of the Democrats who oppose the war did not join in an override, it would fall short.
So, while strong and bipartisan majorities support more weeks of benefits for people out of work for more than 26 weeks, it is not clear that the House and Senate can agree on a vehicle that will produce the supermajority needed in both houses to overcome the President’s opposition.
Now attention shifts back to the Senate, where Majority Leader Reid (D-NV) was described in Congressional Quarterlyas unwilling to bring up a stand-alone bill without unanimous consent from senators to take it up. Without such highly improbable unanimity, the Senate would have to get over certain procedural hurdles, including the need for 60 votes to cut off debate. That would take some time, but might turn out to be the clearest path towards enacting this much-needed extra help for the unemployed.
In deciding to bring up the Emergency Extended Unemployment Act of 2008 (H.R. 5749) as a stand-alone bill, the House leadership was anxious to demonstrate a response to rising unemployment. And although the Republican leadership joined with the President in opposing the extension, 49 Republicans joined 225 Democrats in voting for the bill on June 12. (To see the roll call votes for both the June 11 and June 12 votes: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll412.xml;http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll403.xml.) The bill would provide 13 weeks of additional benefits to workers who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state unemployment insurance. In states with unemployment rates of 6 percent or higher, an additional 13 weeks would be available (totaling up to 26 weeks of extended benefits). More than 4 million unemployed people either have already run out of UI or will do so by March 2009, according to the National Employment Law Project (http://www.unemployedworkers.org/docUploads/ExtensionEstimates.pdf . The Bush Administration has opposed extended benefits because in the past extensions have been enacted during periods of higher overall unemployment. (Bush Administration’s Statement of Administration Policy opposing the extension:http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-2/saphr5749-h.pdf) But the relevant statistic is the number of long-term unemployed, since those are the workers who would qualify for an extension. As of May, there were 200,000more people who have remained jobless for over 27 weeks than there were at the start of the previous recession.