Republicans push for amendments to emergency UI extension bill

Senate Republicans are demanding votes on a slew of amendments to a bipartisan bill to extend federal emergency unemployment benefits for three months.

Republican lawmakers insist that the $6.5 billion price tag for the short-term extension (S. 1845) must be paid for by budget cuts, even though unemployment benefits have been renewed multiple times during the Bush administration without any offsets.

“If the Majority Leader wants this bill to pass the Senate, then he’s likely going to have to find a way to pay for it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). “If Democrats truly want to get anything done this year, they are going to have to learn how to work with us.”

In his floor speech today, McConnell made clear that Republicans will use the unemployment insurance extension as leverage to further their legislative agenda, especially when it comes to dismantling Obamacare.

McConnell has proposed an amendment to extend the unemployment benefits for a longer period in exchange for repealing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, which requires everyone to obtain health care coverage.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said McConnell’s amendment to dismantle Obamacare would be a “non-starter.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) put forth an amendment that would pay for the $6.5 billion three-month unemployment benefits extension and restore the $6.3 billion cost of living adjustment cuts to military retirees by prohibiting undocumented workers from claiming Additional Child Tax Credit.

“We can pay for a temporary long-term unemployment benefit extension and repeal unfair military retiree benefit cuts without adding to our country’s $17 trillion debt. I’ve put forward a common sense proposal that would save billions by stopping illegal immigrants from claiming the additional child tax credit,” said Ayotte. “If Senate Democrats allow a vote on my amendment, we’d have a solution that could immediately deliver temporary help to those looking for work, prevent military retirement benefit cuts, and reduce the deficit.”

Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Oklahoma) amendment would means test unemployment compensation to exclude individuals earning more than $1 million a year.

“As many as 2,362 households that reported income of $1 million or more on their tax returns were paid a total of $20.8 million in unemployment benefits in 2009, according to the Internal Revenue Service,” Coburn stated. “With our national debt now exceeding $17 trillion and nearly $700 billion in red ink being added every year, we can no longer afford to provide unemployment payments to jobless millionaires.”

According to Coburn, closing this loophole would save the government $20 million a year, totaling $100 million in 5 years.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) proposed an amendment to “end double-dipping between unemployment and disability benefits”. His amendment would prevent individuals from collecting Social Security Disability Insurance benefits will receiving unemployment compensation. Portman’s measure would save $5.4 billion over a decade.

“If we extend unemployment insurance, we should not forget that we are doing so to provide temporary relief to all those who are hurting due to a lack of pro-growth policies, and we should not kid ourselves into believing that this extension will solve our economic problems or will pay for itself. Each time we increase spending without paying for it, we are adding to our nation’s soaring debt and placing an unfair burden on our kids and our grandkids.  But it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Portman.  “My amendment would allow us to extend unemployment insurance while also paying for it.  This commonsense measure will ensure that each program’s benefits are better targeted to the intended recipients.  By eliminating this loophole, we can take a page from the President’s own budget proposal to save money.”

An amendment submitted by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) would ease restrictions on oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

“Those who are filing for unemployment benefits need jobs, and many of them want to work more than they want handouts from the government, but Senate Democrats continue to block common-sense solutions for job creation,” said Inhofe. “By empowering states to manage energy exploration and development on federal lands, we could see an upwards of 2.5 million additional new jobs across the nation as well as be one step closer to the bipartisan goal of energy independence.”

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) offered amendments that would delay Obamacare’s individual and employer coverage mandate for a year and require recipients of unemployment compensation to prove that they are “undergoing a sustained job search.”

“I am hopeful that Majority Leader Reid will allow a real debate on extending this program,” said Coats. “I cannot support the bill if we don’t pass amendments to pay for it and reform the program.”

Senate Democrats have proposed closing tax loopholes that encourage corporations to ship jobs overseas as a way to pay for the UI extension.

Taking away those tax breaks “would actually reduce unemployment, eventually lower the cost of unemployment insurance,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York).

Schumer said he fears that some Republican lawmakers may purposely sabotage the passage of the UI extension by trying to force through unreasonable budget cuts.

“We don’t want a…standoff where we put in our pay-for and they put in their pay-for,” said Schumer. “The fundamental question is are they going through a charade to show they really, really want a bill but they just can’t come to an agreement and there are two different versions that fail or can we have serious negotiations to get something done?”


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