CHN: Unemployment Benefits Extension Amendment Reappears on Senate Floor
Unemployment benefits extension returned to center stage in the Senate again this week. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) is continuing to advocate for an extension of the federal Temporary Emergency Unemployment Compensation (TEUC) Program. Cantwell, along with other Democrats, is attempting to secure a vote on an amendment to a corporate tax break bill (S 1637). The amendment would provide an additional 13 weeks of federal unemployment benefits for people who have used up the standard 26 weeks of state aid. Cantwell has attempted to get a vote on this amendment several times. On February 26, 2004 the Senate voted 58-39 in favor of the Cantwell amendment, only 2 votes short of the necessary 60 to pass. Then in March she proposed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Amendments of 2004 (S 2250), which still has not been voted on. The corporate tax bill is one of the few vehicles available to move the unemployment insurance bill to the Senate floor.The Cantwell amendment has caused delays in the corporate tax bill while Republicans have attempted to invoke cloture to end debate in order to avoid voting on politically sensitive non-germane amendments. There is little belief Republicans will be able to secure the 60 votes needed for cloture as two attempts have already failed.
Failure to enact the corporate tax legislation has resulted in international trade penalties for U.S. corporations. The pressure to move the bill has prompted leaders in both parties to discuss compromise proposals. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) offered a vote on the permanent repeal of the estate tax if Republicans would allow a vote on unemployment benefits. In addition, Republicans offered to vote on the Cantwell amendment if there were no other non-tax related amendments introduced. At this time it appears neither compromise plan will be accepted.
In order to pass, the Cantwell amendment must garner 60 votes, and it is not certain proponents can rally that much support in the Senate. A report released today by the Labor Department showed 228,000 jobs were created last month, which Republicans are expected to cite as evidence there is no need to extend unemployment benefits. The unemployment remained about the same (5.6 percent). Cantwell has said she will not be deterred from pushing for a vote by increases in the number of jobs because there are still millions of long-term unemployed workers who have been without income for at least six months.
Despite threats by some Republicans, most notably Senator John Ensign (R-NV), to continue to block this amendment, the Senate GOP leadership is either going to reach a compromise or be forced to pull the corporate tax bill from the floor. Finance Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) has expressed a desire to vote on the Cantwell amendment simply to get the corporate tax bill passed. He has also stated if a cloture vote fails, and the bill is taken off the floor, he will not introduce it again this year.