Senate Minority Continues to Block Federal Unemployment Benefits Renewal

The U.S. Senate twice failed on Saturday to muster the 60 votes needed to proceed to measures including a full-year reauthorization of the federal unemployment insurance programs, which lapsed November 30th.

Democratic leaders had first attempted to pass the unemployment renewal as part of legislation to permanently extend middle-class tax cuts.  But while a 53-vote majority backed the measure, it fell short of the 60 votes needed for cloture.  A subsequent attempt to incorporate the jobless aid renewal in another measure that would have extended current tax rates for those making up to $1 million also received 53 votes and failed.

All Senate Republicans who voted were opposed, as were five Democrats -- thus dooming both measures.  Negotiations involving Senate and House leaders from both parties as well as the administration are reported to be continuing.  Sam Stein at the Huffington Post reported late Saturday that President Obama had told Congressional Democratic leaders that he would oppose any deal that did not include the unemployment insurance renewal:

At a meeting at the White House with Democratic congressional leadership Saturday afternoon, President Obama said he would oppose any compromise deal on the expiring Bush tax cuts if it lacked help for the unemployed and other provisions designed to aid the middle class.

Speaking with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shortly after the Senate failed to pass his preferred tax cut package proposal, Obama drew sharp lines in the sand with respect to ongoing negotiations.

"The President told Democratic Congressional leaders today that he was open to compromise, but he would oppose even a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts if it did not include an extension of benefits for the unemployed and extensions of the other tax cuts that benefit middle class families," a White House official told the Huffington Post. "Without them, taxes would still rise for 95 percent of Americans."

Meanwhile, a new analysis issued today by the National Employment Law Project shows that unless the federal benefit programs are reauthorized, 4.2 million unemployed workers will lose federal benefits prematurely by the end of February:

... the stakes are growing in the heated debate over whether to continue federal unemployment insurance programs throughout 2011.  The NELP analysis finds over 4.2 million people will experience devastating cut-offs of their federal unemployment extensions by the end of February 2011, while the White House Council of Economic Advisors recently projected that 7 million will lose their federal unemployment insurance by the end of 2011. 

The new analysis comes on the heels of a sobering employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, which revealed that the unemployment rate increased to 9.8 percent last month, and underscores the need for a full year of federal extensions, as millions more will continue to fall off the rolls after this winter.   “This winter alone, over four million people will lose out on federal benefits if Congress fails to act to restore these important programs,” stated Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project.  “Paltry job growth and increasing long-term unemployment—nearly half of workers are now out of work for six months or longer—confirm that the recession is still in full force for workers.  It is imperative that Congress reauthorize federal extensions for the next year, before the cut-offs pile up even more.” 

The analysis continues:

In the face of weak jobs growth and increasing unemployment, Congress is putting the nation’s long-term financial health at risk by letting the federal unemployment insurance programs expire.  There is a growing body of evidence supporting the critical role of these benefits in maintaining our nascent economic recovery:   

  • A new report released last week from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers estimates that 7 million workers will be without federal jobless benefits through 2011 if the program is not reauthorized.  In addition, there would have been 800,000 fewer jobs as of September 2010 without benefits.  Further, the economy could shed 600,000 jobs over 2011 should Congress fail to reauthorize the extensions for one year.
  • Finally, prominent U.S. economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, agree that extending federal benefits for one year is the best policy to “help maintain spending, overall demand, and employment at this critical point in the recovery.”

“It is now more important than ever that Congress reinstates a full year of federal unemployment insurance extensions.  We simply cannot afford to let these programs expire.  We’re at risk of losing 600,000 more jobs over the next year if Congress doesn’t act.  Over four million people will lose benefits this winter, and that number will keep on growing.  It’s a price that we cannot afford to pay,” concluded Owens.  

To view state-by-state estimates of the growing numbers of workers impacted by the cut-off of federal jobless benefits, click here.

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