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Republicans Ready To Deal On Unemployment Benefits Extension?

unemployment-job-search

As Congress wound down the 1st session of the 113th Congress late last month, many Democrats tried, and failed, to push legislation that would extend long-term unemployment benefits which were set to expire on December 28th if no action was taken. With no such action taken, of course, those benefits did in fact expire. Now, with Congress set to return to work tomorrow to start the 2nd session, Democrats are making clear that their first agenda item will be to extend those benefits, at least temporarily until a longer term deal can be worked out. Already, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made cleat that he will bring a bill to extend long term unemployment benefits for three months to the Senate floor this week and, if it gets past cloture votes, its obvious that the bill will pass and be sent on to the House, where the real battle will take place.

In the time that Congress has been out of Washington, there’s been very little comment from Republican Members of Congress on this issue so it’s been hard to get a good read on where the House GOP Caucus might stand on this issue, although it’s easy to predict what the responses generally will be. Conservative Republicans have generally been fairly critical of the idea of extending long term unemployment benefits for several years now, with those who have spoken on the issue asserting that paying out long-term benefits ends up turning unemployment benefits into a kind of welfare that discourages people from looking for work. Of course, this argument ignores the fact that people receiving benefits must demonstrate that they continue to actively look for work in order to continue to receive benefits. The problem that this group of long term unemployed people seems to be running into is that many employers are refusing to even consider applicants who have been unemployed for a long period of time and that, in many cases, people find themselves living in areas where there aren’t many available jobs, and they can’t necessarily afford to move to those areas of the country where the jobs are available. That’s why, as I noted shortly before Congress went out of session last month, even many conservative economists are arguing that extending benefits is, for now, at the very least the “least bad” option facing Congress when looking at the all the options available to it.

Perhaps that’s why we’re starting to hear many Republicans in the House and Senate indicate their openness to an extension of benefits assuming the right kind of deal can be struck.

For example, The Hill noted on Sunday that Speaker John Boehner is open to the idea of an extension:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains open to an extension of emergency unemployment benefits even in the face of growing conservative opposition to such a move.

The Ohio Republican maintains the position he expressed last month that Republicans would “clearly consider” an extension of federal help for the long-term unemployed “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Friday.

National Review reports that other conservative Republicans are expressing openness to the idea of an extension under the right circumstances:

Republican congressman Peter King said on Sunday that he will consider backing a temporary extension of long-term unemployment benefits if Democrats make some concessions.

“I would like to find a way to get a compromise to extend unemployment insurance, at least for a brief period of time,” the New York congressman told CBS’s Bob Schieffer, “but at the same time, the Democrats should make compromises.” Arizona’s Matt Salmon, who appeared alongside King, sounded the same notes, saying that if Senate majority leader Harry Reid were to offer ideas for offsetting the cost of extending unemployment benefits, “he might find some people that are willing to talk to him.”

On the Senate side, Rand Paul, who had previously expressed skepticism about the idea of an extension, said in a Sunday morning television appearance that he would beopen to the idea of an extension of their were offsets offered as part of the bill:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday suggested he was open to extending long-term unemployment benefits as long as the insurance is offset.

Paul also said that any extension of the benefits, which expired for more than one million people late last year, would also need to be paired with job-creating policies – like slashing taxes in areas the hardest hit by unemployment.

“I think it’s wrong to borrow money from China or simply to print up money for it,” Paul said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“What I’ve been saying all along, we have to figure out how to create jobs and keep people from becoming long-term unemployed.”

Paul’s tone was significantly different than a month ago, when he said that extending unemployment benefits would be a “disservice” to workers.

Paul on Sunday reiterated that he believes long-term jobless insurance can dissuade unemployed people from seeking work.

The Senate is scheduled to consider a three-month extension of the jobless benefits without offsets on Monday, a bill which has so far gained very limited support from Republicans.

It is worth noting, though, that the bill is co-sponsored by Nevada Republican Dean Heller, who is joining Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed to put together the short -term extension that Harry Reid intends to put on the Senate floor as early as tomorrow. Obviously, at that point, the question will be whether Heller will be able to persuade enough of his Republican colleagues to support the bill to get it past cloture votes (presently, there don’t appear to be enough GOP votes to do that it should be noted), and whether some kind of deal can be worked out with the House. Based on what we’re hearing, it’s clear that any deal will have to include some kind of budgetary offset for the cost of the extension. Given the relatively small amount we’re talking about, though, it seems as though that might be something that’s easy enough to do given the size of the Federal Budget.

While it may seem surprising, Republican willingness to talk about extending unemployment benefits shouldn’t be all too surprising. At least two polls released before the end of the year (see here and here) showed very strong national support for extending long term unemployment benefits, for example, and ever since getting burned by the Government Shutdown, the GOP seems to be being very deliberate about not flaunting public opinion on relatively small issues such as this. Instead, the strategy heading into the 2014 midterms clearly seems to be to concentrate on both the state of the economy and the perceived problems with the Affordable Care Act. Republicans seem to be committed to committed to keeping their agenda focused on those two issues rather than getting dragged down into debates where they end up opposing things that the public as a whole supports, such as the extension of unemployment benefits. Indeed, the most I think we can expect to hear from the GOP on this particular issue in the end will be something along the lines of how we ought to be concentrating on things that will really help the long-term unemployed by helping to create more jobs, or by pointing out what they contend are the job-killing effects of the Affordable Care Act.

There may be some moments in the coming week or two where the fate of an extension will seem in doubt, but, in the end, I think it will pass because the House and Senate GOP Leadership realizes that it isn’t in the party’s interest to wage an ultimately losing battle on an issue like this, and because they are now much more willing to stand up to the Tea Party crowd whether it be the caucus inside Congress, or the advocacy groups standing on the outside using controversies such as this to enhance their fundraising rather than actually accomplishing anything.

Jazz Shaw is far more pessimistic about how things may go on Capitol Hill:

Unfortunately, this looks like it’s shaping up to be the next chapter in the “GOP Civil War” meme that the media loves to talk about. (Along with anything else that doesn’t involve Obamacare, obviously.) Plenty of conservatives are running up the black flag and ready to go to the mat on this, arguing against another extension of benefits. It’s also yet another case of Politics 101 where you can have the science – math, in this case – on your side and still wind up losing the larger battle. Coming into the mid-terms, the Democrats would love nothing more than to litter the airwaves with one advertisement after another listing the number of families who have lost their benefits with so few job opportunities out there, thanks to the heartless Republicans.

(…)

From that perspective, it’s almost better for the liberals to offer Boehner nothing and let the chips fall where they may. That way they wind up being equally responsible for the benefits not being paid but they get the media to blame the GOP entirely. Suffering no damage themselves, they also shift the narrative away from Obamacare yet again and breath new life into their hopes to hang on to the Senate majority.

This is certainly a plausible scenario, one that would generally follow the script of the September/October fight over Obamacare and the budget and debt ceiling that led to the shutdown. However, it strikes me that Democrats need to be just as careful at how they play this game as Republicans do. The polling that was conducted during and after the shutdown, after all, didn’t exactly put them in a good position either, the only positive sign for them is that the GOP came out looking worse. In this case, if the GOP manages to come together on the position that they are willing to agree to an extension of benefits as long as we find a way to pay for them, Democrats run the risk of looking bad if they try to play an all-or-nothing game similar to the one GOP played with the PPACA before the shutdown. Additionally, it’s worth noting that the bill the Senate is taking up is only a temporary extension of long-term benefits for three months rather than the standard one year extension. If there’s an opportunity to come up with a deal that makes the extension last a full year with the only lasting a year, why wouldn’t they take it, and wouldn’t they be the ones taking a political risk if they reject it?

In the end, I tend to think that Congress will end up working out a deal here. However, expect it to follow the standard script of Capitol Hill, meaning we’ll see a couple weeks or so of partisan fighting, much screaming and shouting from the usual sources, a few failed votes in the House and Senate and, then, just when it seems all hope is lost, a deal that kind off accomplishes what could have could have been done weeks earlier.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Woody says:

    I really doubt the GOP House caucus will pass an extension.

    When Fox or Rush opine about unemployment insurance, after a pro forma line about how hard it is to find a job (thanks Obama), it is always from the angle of the Wrong People buying Alaskan King Crab off hardworking taxpayers.

    Never mind that extending unemployment checks is the most moral choice, or the proper economic choice, or the “least bad” choice. “Keep your government hands off my Medicare” now represents the middle ground of many GOP districts. Any program initiated by a Democrat – particularly Obama, Reid, or especially Pelosi – is vehemently, unthinkingly evil to a Republican, and thus to a Republican Representative in a very conservative district.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Paul also said that any extension of the benefits, which expired for more than one million people late last year, would also need to be paired with job-creating policies policies designed to make the 1% even richer – like slashing taxes in areas the hardest hit by unemployment everywhere.

    It isn’t even hard to know what they really mean anymore.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  3. Stonetools says:

    Hoping the Democrats stick to their guns here. Policy wise, there is ZERO case for not extending UI benefits. The Democrats shouldn’t have to make any “deal” on this- they are 100 per cent right on this, as they were on the debt ceiling. And they won that by hanging tough.
    Let the Republicans keep going on the record voting against extending UI benefits- until the yokels who voted them in finally realize that the Republicans are voting against THEM.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. wr says:

    Well, finally I understand why you quote this Jazz Shaw so compulsively. What a keen analyst of current events:

    “Unfortunately, this looks like it’s shaping up to be the next chapter in the “GOP Civil War” meme that the media loves to talk about. (Along with anything else that doesn’t involve Obamacare, obviously.) ”

    Yes, he’s nailed it, all right. The media completely ignored the problems with the Obamacare roll-out, covering it up so tremendously that we could barely see the front page stories and lead-offs on the TV shows day after day after day.

    This is what we need from an analyst, a man who refuses to be blinded by reality and instead writes entirely from the perspect of his own ass.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  5. Tillman says:

    Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Sunday suggested he was open to extending long-term unemployment benefits as long as the insurance is offset.

    There’s no such thing as emergency debt in government anymore. Even though a household (that favorite analogy of the right in budgetary matters) often goes into debt during crises for [hopefully] short periods of time.

    I thought the fever here would’ve been broken after the debacle during Hurricane Sandy’s cleanup.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  6. legion says:

    I’ll believe it when I see it. The micro-minority in the GOP who might actually see the popularity (if not the sense or general moral rightness) of extending benefits are far outnumbered by the teabilly rubes who still believe being poor and/or jobless is a sin of choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  7. gVOR08 says:

    You repeat the fairness arguments, which are perfectly valid. But there’s also the economic argument. As Booman notes

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported last month that, while the emergency UI program would cost $25.7 billion for another year, it would create 200,000 jobs and add 0.2 percent to gross domestic product.

    How can anyone rationally oppose the extension. Sorry, forgot for a moment we were talking about Republicans.

    And this magic only works if you don’t offset the spending, or at least extend the offset over many years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  8. Rafer Janders says:

    @Tillman:

    Even though a household (that favorite analogy of the right in budgetary matters) often goes into debt during crises for [hopefully] short periods of time.

    Not even during crises, and not for short periods of time. If a household has a mortgage or education loans or car payments, then it has long-term non-emergency debt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  9. Peter says:

    Even extended UI benefits run out eventually. As troublesome as affirmative action can be, I am coming to the conclusion that mandatory affirmative action programs for the long-term unemployed may be the only way out of the mess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  10. Gustopher says:

    I suggested the other day that Republicans would demand it be paid for with tax cuts for the wealthy. And now…

    Speaker John Boehner … maintains the position he expressed last month that Republicans would “clearly consider” an extension of federal help for the long-term unemployed “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Friday.

    Cut food stamps, and taxes on the rich! I was underestimating them. My mistake.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  11. C. Clavin says:

    Rand Paul says that UE benefits make people lazy…dis-incentivize work…and he quoted a study that he said proved it.
    Then the authors of the study said…no…that’s not what it said.
    Did Paul change his tune?
    Of course not.
    Facts mean nothing to Republicans and Libertarians.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  12. Woody says:

    @Gustopher:

    Though I’m confident the House GOP will be doing what their base demands when they block unemployment extensions, I’m less sure they’ll be able to pull off the cut taxes for the rich as well as they used to, should the Senate GOP maneuver for a deal.

    Even some of my more dedicated dittohead friends are less enamoured about slashing rich people’s taxes (though they’re opposed to taxes on principle). Of course, none of them are extraordinarily wealthy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  13. stonetools says:

    What’s happening here is that the Republican economic theology tells them that anything that increases the deficit or government spending is by definition wrong, leading to hyperinflation, etc. (Defense spending, excepted, of course).
    Now all of that has been proven dead wrong by the experience of the last five years, but conservatives can’t give up the gospel according to Friedman, Hayek and Rogoff. Bernanke hammers the republicans on it (hat tip Booman again):

    Bernanke, wrapping up his final month on the job, said in a speech Friday that the nation’s fiscal course in recent years has been overly restrictive. As lawmakers looked to cut into the deficit by cutting spending and increasing taxes in recent years, Bernanke argued against that penny-pinching.
    “Excessively tight near-term fiscal policies have likely been counterproductive,” he said in remarks before the American Economic Association.

    Ever since the financial crisis and recession, the Fed has entered uncharted territory in its efforts to prop up the economy. Bernanke argued that Washington’s obsession with the deficit over the last few years may have missed the mark, and that if the two institutions had worked together to improve the immediate economy, everyone would have been better off.

    “With fiscal and monetary policy working in opposite directions, the recovery is weaker than it otherwise would be,” he said. “Monetary policy has less room to maneuver when interest rates are close to zero, while expansionary fiscal policy is likely both more effective and less costly in terms of increased debt burden when interest rates are pinned at low levels.”

    Once again, these guys are dead wrong. It’s time for the Democrats to stop compromising with these economic flat earthers who have been sabotaging the economy over the years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  14. al-Ameda says:

    Please correct me if I’m wrong here: Essentially, aren’t Republicans saying that if we cut the marginal federal income tax rate to Zero we would solve all of our problems?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    If a household has a mortgage or education loans or car payments, then it has long-term non-emergency debt.

    And that debt often exceeds 100% of annual income. Over the 100% or 90% of GDP that is held up as some uncrossable limit for the government. People use these household budget analogies all the time. But if you look at them, they really demonstrate the opposite of the “debt bad” lesson that’s usually claimed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda: Only for rich people. Poor people will still have to pay. They’re poor, so they deserve no better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  17. al-Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:

    And that debt often exceeds 100% of annual income. Over the 100% or 90% of GDP that is held up as some uncrossable limit for the government. People use these household budget analogies all the time. But if you look at them, they really demonstrate the opposite of the “debt bad” lesson that’s usually claimed

    .
    Most people do not stop to think that lame “Household budget” analogy through at all.

    Many people owe far more than their annual household income. As an example, my mortgage debt is 3 times my annual income – but so what? What matters is my capacity to pay the debt – my annual mortgage payments are about 20% of my net annual income, I can meet my debt service obligation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @Woody:

    Since the Democrats have decide to use extension of unemployment benefits to demagogue Republicans, there will be not way in the future to let them expire. This constant extension of benefits has established a dole for all Americans who are eligible for unemployment. I suspect that eventually this will lead to a minimum income for all Americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  19. Gustopher says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Most people do not stop to think that lame “Household budget” analogy through at all.

    There is a general idea that your household budget should be running a small surplus — saving ahead to build up an emergency fund, or planning ahead for future obligations. It’s something that would be great if applied on a national scale.

    The people down the street who are living beyond their means with their big screen TVs, new car and expensive girlfriend — those people aren’t being frugal, they are living beyond their means.

    The “household budget” analogy works to a certain extent. In flush times and in down times, we run a deficit. Nationally, we are the people down the street living beyond their means — the big screen TV is our infrastructure and is actually quite old, the car really isn’t new, and instead of an expensive girlfriend, we have a bunch a bunch of senior citizens that we are supporting.

    The Republicans see this imbalance, and suggest we cut spending, seeing only big screen TVs, ignoring the senior citizens and the rest. Their reaction to the “household budget” analogy is to live in poverty, rather than increase the budget.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  20. Woody says:

    @superdestroyer:

    As Mr Mataconis noted above, unemployment benefits are only given to those who can show they have been actively seeking work.

    I confess: I believe that the great majority of adult Americans want to work, to provide for themselves and their family. I’m sure there are some who game the system, but then, all systems are gamed, from TANF to million-dollar tax expenditures.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @Woody:

    There is no gaming the system. However, since proposing to end the program makes a person evil, then how will it ever end in the future. As with too many government programs, what started out as a temporary program is now becoming a permanent program. There will always be people who have been employed for long periods of time and now there will always be people who want to continue the transfer payment.

    The real question for policy and governance is what is the largest percentage of the population that can be dependent of the government.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. bill says:

    @Stonetools: why, what’s another 90 days going to do for people who haven’t been able to find work in a year or so? the food stamp prez has no answers that involve actually having people work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  23. anjin-san says:

    @ bill

    Are we better off now than we were the day before Obama took office? You remember that don’t you? When we were loosing 500K jobs a month…

    Yes or no?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. Stonetools says:

    @bill:
    The President has proposed job programs several times. Each time it has been shot down by the Republicans. Despite Republican sabotage, the unemployment rate has been falling slowly so an extra 90 days CAN make a difference.
    Also too read the CBO Report link referenced above. You should also understand that economists overwhelmingly favor extending UI benefits this time.
    Man, why do I even bother?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @Stonetools:

    Just like extended unemployment has become permanent, any government make work jobs program would have become permanent. The Democrats, who are the dominant political party, are so interested in demonizing the Republicans that the Democrats refuse to think about the long term consequences of their policies.

    Making unemployment benefits permanent is just another step in making the U.S. a one party state where entitlements will push out everything else the government does.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 5

  26. bill says:

    @anjin-san: yes we are, so why do we need to keep putting more people on food stamps and extended unemployment?

    @Stonetools: jobs bills are still more gov’t. funded programs (that have no financing), why can’t this guy create actual private sector jobs that pay taxes vs. putting everyone on food stamps and the gov’t. dole? aside from that he’s never actually had to do it in his life?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. bk says:

    @bill:

    why can’t this guy create actual private sector jobs

    Congratulations! You have won today’s internets for the stupidest comment of the day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  28. Rob in CT says:

    The core problem is that employment levels dropped but corporate profits rose (after a big short-term dip in ’08/’09). The companies are still making money hand over fist with fewer workers. Why would they hire? In theory, if they all hired the tide would rise and they’d make even more money, but that’s a serious collective action problem. How does one deal with collective action problems? Well, there’s this thing called government…

    There simply aren’t enough jobs open. Even if an individual scrambles to the top of the (unemployed) heap and gets a job, all it means is that somebody else was displaced.

    Fiscal stimulus is a non-starter. The Fed has maxed out what it can do. Ergo, we muddle through. At least the state-level austerity seems to have relaxed a bit.

    UI should be extended. It’s a bandaid, to be sure, but not extending is worse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. Billie Heinzelman says:

    Why can’t the whole damn bunch quit trying to put blame on all screw ups in this country on each other??
    The fact is there’s not enough jobs to go around
    A lot of big shots that owned manufacturing plants and big business sent their jobs overseas so they can pay cheap labor and bring back here and sell for bigger profits
    And what little jobs we have left
    Letting illegals come here and get what’s left
    This whole damn country is all bout the rich filling their pockets and the hell with the rest of us
    All presidents are rich and all the same
    Bill Clinton started all that bullshit
    Not Obama
    But like I said
    All the rich are the same
    Corporate Greed has messed this country up

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Rob in CT says:

    It goes back well past Clinton, friend. The divergence actually started in the mid-1970s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. bill says:

    @bk: i think you upped the ante with that though! i won’t ding you for poor grammar as it’s all good.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. dave bowen says:

    @Peter: Two thoughts/Since republicans in Congress are not working anyway,Don’t pay them. Tell them to stop sabotaging the country,like a bunch of treasonous cowards,in the back pockets of big business,and people will have decent jobs and will not need government help of any kind

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. chris hawkins says:

    I pray to god something bad happens to all the senators who voted no. I pray they starve, lose their job or somebody robs them. See how it feels. I paid taxes all my life, they could never give me enough EUC compared to the taxes I paid in to this pitful country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0