Senate Democrats & Republicans disagree on whether unemployment extension should be offset

As Senate Democrats and Republicans begin negotiations on a three-month extension of federal emergency unemployment compensation, one of the key sticking points is whether the renewal should offset.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) insisted that any extension to unemployment benefits – even for a short period of time – should be “paid for” with budget cuts.

McConnell said Republicans will offer amendments to S. 1845 that would contain cuts to offset the $6.5 billion cost for the three-month extension.

However, Democrats pointed out that unemployment compensation extensions approved under the Bush administration – when unemployment rate was lower than it is now – didn’t require any offsets. In fact, Congress passed an extension as recently as early 2013 without any offsets.

“My colleagues say they want to pay for this bill. This is new religion for them because all 5 times that President Bush signed extended unemployment benefits, it wasn’t paid for,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).

McConnell justified the reversal of the Republicans’ position by pointing out that the national debt has ballooned under the Obama administration and there is a need to curb new spending.

“When George W. Bush was President, we didn’t have a debt as big as our economy. We’ve added more debt during the Obama years than all the Presidents from George Washington down to George Bush. We have a debt crisis,” explained McConnell. “We ought to be able to find an opening…to pay for this program. I don’t think that’s unreasonable or outrageous.”

Reid said Congress should pass the three month renewal with no strings attached and then negotiate offsets for a year-long extension.

“So I say to my Republican colleagues, this is a 3-month extension. Let’s pass this bill so that our fellow Americans – more than 1 million of them – don’t have to suffer and can keep [their benefits] and we can then talk about the long-term plan. It’s the right thing to do,” said Reid.

However, Reid has not ruled out considering amendments to pay for the short-term extension.

“It’s an emergency and I’m not in favor of it. But if [the Republicans] have something, I’ll bring it to my caucus and we’ll take a look at it,” he said. “It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to take something out of the economy that’s creating jobs to pay for unemployment compensation. Everybody knows that for every $1 that we put into unemployment compensation, we get $1.50 back.”

The federal emergency unemployment compensation [EUC] program expired in late December, cutting off aid to 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for more 6 months. Another 1.9 million unemployed Americans will be cut off by June unless Congress renews the program. To qualify for unemployment benefits, the individual has to be actively looking for a job.

Katherine Hackett of Moodus, Connecticut, told reporters at the White House yesterday that unemployment benefits have been “absolutely essential to cover [the] bare necessities” as she looks for a job.

“I am working very hard everyday to look for a position,” said Hackett, whose sons are serving in the U.S. military. “I have cut expenses everywhere possible and I am not just sitting at home enjoying the good life. My cuts include heating my house to 58 degrees, wearing a hat and a coat to stay warm because oil is expensive. I have lost weight weight because food is expensive.”

Without the federal unemployment benefit, Hackett won’t have the money to pay for gas, housing, food she needs to stay afloat before she finds a job.

“Do folks really think that cutting this benefit will make someone hire me?” Hackett wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama. “I challenge any lawmaker to live without an income.”

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