Extending unemployment benefits stumbles in Senate
January 14th, 2014
04:32 PM ET
8 months ago

Extending unemployment benefits stumbles in Senate

Updated 8:21 p.m. ET, 1/14/2014

(CNN) – Senate passage of long-term unemployment benefits appeared in doubt on Tuesday following the failure of two procedural votes, leaving the fate of emergency government assistance to more than 1 million people in limbo.

The votes come after fits and starts in negotiations involving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and eight Republican Senators.

All parties said they hoped the talks would continue but several acknowledged the bill is now on a back-burner as the Senate scrambles to deal with other pressing legislation before a week-long recess.

One Democratic source said this would be a "cooling off period" after emotional debate.

Talks broke down over policy and process.

The White House said it was disappointed in the development, blaming Republicans. President Barack Obama and Democrats have been pressing for an extension of the recession-era program that expired in December.

"We will continue to work with both sides to find a solution because the cost of inaction is simply too high," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Proponents argue that leaving long-term jobless Americans without a safety net was unacceptable and would also harm the economy since there would be less money for them to spend on goods and services.

According to a Quinnipiac University survey released last week, voters supported by a 58%-37% margin extending unemployment benefits for three months.

There was a partisan divide: Support was 83%-13% among Democrats and 54%-41% among Independent voters, with Republicans opposed 54%-42%.

If a candidate for Congress supports extending jobless benefits, a third of those questioned said they'd be more likely to vote for that candidate, with 24% percent saying less likely and four in 10 saying it wouldn't affect their vote.

Partisan differences this year in Congress are magnified by the prospect of next November's midterm elections. Republicans have their eye on retaking the Senate where negotiators disagreed over how to pay for extending unemployment benefits, which run about $25 billion a year.

Democrats argued they made a major concession by agreeing to offset the expense, something that has not been done when similar benefits were approved previously.

But Republicans said that payment plan - which would have extended some of the automatic budget cuts required under so-called sequestration - was insufficient because those cuts wouldn't kick in for 10 years.

In turn, Democrats argued the GOP proposal to increase the size of some of those same spending cuts was draconian and would hurt many of the same people in need of assistance.

Republicans countered their proposal wasn't that different from the Democratic plan, except that the cuts would be implemented right away.

Wrangling over amendment also impacted the outcome.

Republicans - especially the six Senators who voted with Democrats to bring unemployment benefits up for debate - wanted to propose amendments on the floor. Republicans regularly complain Reid blocks them from offering amendments.

He initially refused to allow any GOP amendments, but relented under pressure.

Still, his proposal for five GOP amendments, each requiring 60 votes to pass while the underlying Democratic bill would only need 51 votes, angered Republicans.

"This is utterly absurd," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in rejecting the plan.

He argued Democrats were purposely trying to scuttle the bill so they could blame Republicans for blocking benefits.

Is Reid making a good faith effort to pass the bill, a reporter asked McConnell.

"Of course not," he replied.

Democrats defended their proposal for amendments, saying it was only way to ensure that in the end the bill would pass.

They also acknowledged they were unwilling to "walk on hot coals," in the words of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, to vote on politically charged amendments offered by Republicans.

"In the end of the day, this debate is not about amendments or Senate procedure, this is about 1.4 million desperate Americans who, through no fault of their own, need the help of their federal government," Reid said.

Despite the bad blood between the parties, Senators said they hoped they would return to the issue soon and cut a deal.

"I am perennially hopeful" about eventually getting a deal, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the principal GOP negotiators, said with a smile. "Otherwise, how could I be here, right?"

The Republican-led House has not taken up any proposal to renew extended unemployment benefits.


Filed under: Congress • unemployment
soundoff (574 Responses)
  1. Person

    Unemployment benefits go directly back into the economy. They help unemployed pay the grocer who pays the store employees, on and on. Dropping those benefits doesn't chase people into finding jobs that don't exist. The "greedy unmotivated welfare mother" is largely a myth from years ago. Instead, dropping those benefits reduces money coming into the grocer who pays the store employees, on and on. So demanding 1-for-1 budget cuts to match the cost of unemployment benefits is not honest economics. It's holding the unfortunate hostage in order to advance a partisan agenda.

    January 14, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  2. blakenaustin

    GOOD! 26 weeks is plenty for most people. Provide another 26 weeks with three conditions: 1) monthly proof of 16 hours a week of job hunting, 2) mandatory drug testing monthly, 3) the individual works (with the unemployment compensation serving as pay) 16 hours per week in a new government job program for people getting this extra half year of benefits.

    January 14, 2014 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  3. len

    We can pay for it by eliminating over 7 billion dollars in tax subsides to big oil companies! You can GOP/Tea Party folks if you really care about American families who need to put food on the table?

    January 14, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  4. joe

    its the republican way

    January 14, 2014 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  5. Chip

    Would like to have quite a few of our senators in the unemployment line to see how the other half lives!

    January 14, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  6. M.W.

    the unemployment benefits total only around 4% of national budget, the interest that we pay on our debt totals 150% of the money we spend on unemployment benefits, other words, interest on debt totals around 6%. BTW, we send over $1B to Egyptian army government (dictatorship)

    January 14, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  7. Andy

    Disgusting, shows a bunch of millionaires don't give a crap about people going through rough times. Do you think I enjoy not having a job? Far from it and I'd much rather be working, but hundreds of apps and resumes have got me no where. In the meantime we can give millions or billions to people who don't deserve it...sad. I will not vote for anyone who opposed this, perhaps you should do the same?

    January 14, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  8. McBob79

    Another Harry Reid failure. He's the my way or the highway, senile senator from Nevada of all places. Make no mistake he's definately a losing bet for our country.

    January 14, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  9. TexasAnnie

    I see "now hiring" & "help wanted" signs everywhere. It may not be the. 6-figure job everybody would like to have, but it's better than most unemployment checks. Shoot, the local In 'n Out Burger place has signs up saying starting wages are $10.75 an hour.

    January 14, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  10. Tyler

    With the amount of people that abused this 99 week unemployment benefit, it's no wonder it's not getting extended. I personally know 3 people who got 99 weeks of unemployment along with working under the table at $20+/hour. Probably the best 99 weeks of income in their lives.

    January 14, 2014 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  11. BeenThereDoneThat

    You get what you vote for. Continue voting for Repubs & TeaPots, & you'll CONTINUE getting dirt kicked in your faces!

    January 14, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  12. The REAL Truth...

    The last shutdown cost more than the extension. Perhaps the GOP/Teatrolls should pony up the expense from their own pockets.. ???

    January 14, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  13. Philip Marshall

    I am so glad this failed. I've had enough of all these give a ways. 26 weeks is enough for unemployment assistance.

    January 14, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  14. Calcommuter

    Does the extension get rid of Obamacare? No. Does the extension help big oil? No. Does the extension help the rich? No. Will their refusal to help the jobless assist in their re elections or getting a Republican in the White House? No way.

    January 14, 2014 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  15. Kevin

    They kill unemployment because a few bad apples are abusing the system. Yet when Wall St. has a few bad apples abuse the system, they give them bail-outs and subsidy's. This is the Republican way. There is no such thing as "trickle down" since it all trickles up.

    January 14, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  16. Me

    And everyone says that it is congress that are obstructionists, NOPE sorry it is Harry and the Senate, always has been, now maybe people will see the truth!!!!!!!!!!

    January 14, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  17. Name jk. Sfl. GOP CRUZ lee&rubio 24billion dallar LOSS of your tax money conservatives,the garbage of America.

    The GOP keeps shooting itself in the foot and thinks their making progress. We will show the GOP toads that their incompetents and obstruction will result in their downfall in 2014 midterm elections AND2016. Why vote for a GOP party that accomplishes NOTHING!!!!!!

    January 14, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  18. Tyler

    Unemployment benefits don't really work.. people will just work under the table as long as they can get them.

    January 14, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  19. steve franzmeier

    Here's a thought, dip into the missing Billions that the Pentagon can't seem to find.

    January 14, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  20. Jim

    How many times have we extended this and what has been the result. Same with QE. Same with Stimulus. Same with Cash for Clunkers and so on. Point being, if it's not working to help build and find employment for people why are we doing it. And no... it doesn't go back into the economy, it's a zero some transfer of money from people who "didn't earn" it.

    January 14, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  21. myra

    iIts nice not to be able to afford the things you need on a daily basics when all the congress men that we vote in sit there on their high horses not having to worry about nothing and we have to suffer and they can send all this money over seas

    January 14, 2014 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  22. Lynda/Minnesota

    "The Republican-led House has not taken up any proposal to renew extended unemployment benefits."

    Well, no. I don't suppose they will either. Fact is, one could argue they have themselves been collecting government subsidized "unemployment benefits" for years now. At least 5 years, anyway. And yet, they dare to criticize others.

    Tsk ... Tsk.

    January 14, 2014 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  23. Jason

    How about they pick up trash along the highway for their pay....or some other community service to get the right to this money?

    January 14, 2014 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  24. Jon

    Look out! We are all going to be living in doorways soon. Grab your shopping cart while you still can get one.

    January 14, 2014 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  25. Eric

    Unemployments benefits are paid by businesses, states that have borrowed money for unemployment from the federal government are now charging businesses interest on those loans. This tax prevents companies from hiring more employees and spending money on capital improvements. Let some time pass and see how quick these people who have been out of work can lower expectations and find a job

    January 14, 2014 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
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