Congress should add an unemployment extension to President Barack Obama's $4.3 billion proposed emergency spending bill, Sen. Jack Reed said Wednesday.
“There is an emergency supplemental coming down the pike that seeks to deal with immediate threats like wildfires and the humanitarian situation on our border,” Reed said in a statement. “Helping Americans who’ve been hit hardest by the recession is an urgent priority and restoring UI should be part of that conversation and part of that supplemental package. I am going to work with my colleagues to try to find a way to get this done and get people the help they need.” But attaching an unemployment extension to the package will be an uphill battle given Republican opposition in the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has also said that he doesn’t believe the package should be expanded.
It's also unclear if Reed’s provision would be paid for, since the supplemental is deemed emergency spending and not required to be offset under budget rules.
Reed’s comments come as others have been eyeing the offset in legislation he drafted with Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., to re-up benefit for five months. The measure costs a little less than $10 billion and would be fully offset — a key to Republican support — using a combination of revenue raisers that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions and extending customs user fees through 2024.
But House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., has identified pension smoothing as an offset for his proposal to bolster the Highway Trust Fund, which is expected to run dry this summer. The Camp measure would keep funds flowing to transportation projects for 10 months.
“Well, if the pay-for is not there then that will require us to look for another pay-for, but we hope we can get some traction on UI,” Reed told CQ Roll Call in a brief conversation.
But in his statement he seemed more frustrated that the pay-for was being considered. He said it’s the second time that offsets he and Heller had sought to use for unemployment insurance had been poached.
“This is now the second time they’ve taken offsets intended to help the unemployed and used them to pay for other priorities,” Reed said. “First it was the sequestration extension for mandatory spending, which was good enough for Paul Ryan to use, but when it was proposed to help the unemployed, House Republicans said no. Then they turned around and used it as part of the agreement on military COLAs.”
“Then, the Senate came together and broke filibuster after filibuster, repeatedly overcame the 60-vote threshold, and passed a bipartisan, fully offset plan to renew emergency UI, and House Republicans refused to act,” Reed continued. “They refused to take a vote or lift a finger to help job seekers. Now they are again taking UI’s offset and using it to pay for something else.”
The Senate passed the earlier version of the Reed-Heller bill in April, but the House never took it up, in part, because the House GOP leadership said it only addressed the symptoms and not the causes of joblessness.
While he was critical of the House for not taking up his initial bill, he was quick to point out that he supports extending the highway bill.
“Plugging the hole in the Highway Trust Fund is absolutely essential,” Reed said. “We need to keep our economy moving and save jobs, so I support a bipartisan fix, but there should also be bipartisan support for helping job seekers and renewing emergency UI.”
But an unemployment extension has stalled as Reid has said that he isn’t inclined to schedule the unemployment insurance bill for a vote until the Republican-run House indicates they are prepared to act.
And lately, conservatives have suggested that the falling unemployment rate can be attributed to the end of extended benefits — making passage of an extension an even taller order.
The odds of action are also shrinking now that Camp plans to use pension smoothing, which temporarily reduces the amount that companies are required to pay into their pension funds, boosting taxable income and raising revenue for the government.
However, the future of the Camp proposal is unclear at best given that Senate Democrats are calling for a patch that only runs through the end of the year and forces Congress to pass a longer-term bill in the lame duck session after the election.
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