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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Congress Sharply Divided on Unemployment Extensions, As Holiday Season Nears

Unofficial seal of the United States Congress                                  Image via Wikipedia
A Gallup Poll highlighted on the Reach Out Job Search Blog” on November 23rd, highlighted that 48 percent of the American public agreed that extending unemployment benefits to the long-term jobless were very important, with another 28 percent agreeing that it was somewhat important.

Regardless to the public beliefs, a sharply divided Congress is still balking at extending jobless benefits for more than 2 million claimants.

Congress and President Obama has all but decided to ignore the 99ers (jobless that received between 73-99 weeks of supplemental income payments). No action has been taken in the Senate on S3706 “The Americans Want To Work Act”, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), since the prior Congressional recess period. The last vote on this bill took place on September 28th, when lame-duck Senator George Lemieux, blocked an up or down vote on the legislation.

For jobless under 99 weeks, it is doubtful that Congress will act on the new unemployment extension bill - HR-6419 “Emergency Compensation Unemployment Continuation Act”- by the current bill, HR-4213 expiration date of November 30th.  An estimated 2 million people slated to receive extended benefits will not get them on time and will start either immediately losing the supplemental income payment or fall off claimant rolls, during the month of December 2010.

Congress is taking another week off (which is the seven week off work within the last three months) for a Thanksgiving recession. The legislative body reconvenes from November 29th – December 17th, with an additional recess period until January 2011.

If lawmakers do not timely extend jobless benefits, it will be the third time this year that they will have missed a deadline. The nation's unemployment rate, at 9.6 percent, has been stagnant since May of 2010.

On July 22nd, President Barack Obama signed HR-4213 The Unemployment Compensation Act of 2010. Congress failed three times to extend benefits before deadlines. Jobless workers did receive retroactive benefits, once legislation was passed. It is unknown, at this time, if any form of retroactive payments is packaged within the HR-6419 measure.

The average family receives about $290 -$310 a week from the benefits, which can last up to 99 weeks, depending on a state's jobless rate. State employer taxes pay for the first 26 weeks. In weeks 27 to 99, the federal extension program funds most of the benefits.

Republicans paid no measured political price for leading the effort to delay benefits earlier this year. Earlier in the year GOP leaders, including Senator Orrin Hatch, took the bold step call for testing the unemployed to receive continuing benefits. Then and currently, the GOP insisted that the benefits' costs must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

When the 112th Congress convenes in January, the Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives after gaining 63 seats. Within the Senate, the GOP added six seats, for a total of 47.
"Those who are spewing the hot air have a job, the security of a job and the security of health care," said Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) to the Miami Herald. "So they don't really understand what real people are living through."
Other legislators, including Senate Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who crossed over to vote with Democrats for the passage of unemployment extensions in 2010; perceived to be more tempered in her response, since the results of the November 3rd elections.
"The pending expiration of unemployment benefits should be a signal and a wake-up call for Congress to finally focus like a laser," Snowe stated to the Miami Herald, on developing "an environment that will provide certainty and stability with respect to tax and regulatory policies in order to foster economic growth and spur job creation."
Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) in the House sponsored HR-6419, the Emergency Compensation Continuation Act on November 17th. That measure failed by a 258-154 majority, for a $12.5 billion jobless benefits extension through February 28. 

Specifically, the measure was brought up under a special rule that required a two-thirds majority of those voting, or 275 votes, for passage.
"The fact is that we can both provide this help and pay for it by cutting less-effective stimulus spending," stated Congressman Charles Boustany, Jr. (R-LA) citing one GOP plan to pay for the jobless aid to the Miami Herald.
Democrats countered that the nation is experiencing a true emergency, and this was no time to quibble over spending offsets.
"Any family receiving unemployment insurance would tell you that these benefits do not provide for a luxurious lifestyle without financial worries," said Congresswoman Betty McCollum, (D-MN). "These same families would tell you that without these benefits, they would lose their home, lose their car and lose the ability to feed their children."
Democrats see Republican double-speak, at work as the party wish to add to the budget deficit, which sits at 13.7 Trillion, by extending all of Bush-era tax cuts expire on December 31st, including for tax payers earning $250,000 per year and above. This action would add an estimated $700 billion to the deficit during the next 10 years.

More long-term deficit minded Democrats only want to continue the tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 a year and joint filers making less than $250,000.
"The same Republicans who want to increase our deficit by extending massive tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans were willing to leave average Americans to fend for themselves," stated Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL).
What are your thoughts on this article?  Do you believe an unemployment extension for those under 99 weeks will be pass in the upcoming lame-duck session? Feel free to comment on this story, below!
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