Democrats Push Unemployment Debate in 2014 Election Strategy

Source: Bytemarks / Flickr

Source: Bytemarks / Flickr

The first action in the U.S. Senate in 2014, an election year, will be the consideration of S.1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act. In case anyone missed the political overtones, and Democratic agenda leading up to the midterms, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plainly presented the plan and implications in a conference  call.

“Our Republican colleagues should take note. Certainly we’re going to build on the progress we’ve made to reduce the deficit, but it is no longer the most important issue that we face,” Schumer said, Politico covered his remarks. “Issues like job creation, minimum wage, and unemployment insurance are going to weigh on the minds of voters far more than Obamacare by the time the 2014 elections roll around.”

Emergency unemployment benefits expired on December 28, 2013, when approximately 1 million people lost assistance. Emergency Unemployment Compensation (or, EUC) began in 2008, offering a temporary extension of unemployment benefits provided by the federal government for individuals who are unemployed, and have exhausted regular and state benefits for which they are eligible. Already a politicized issue, the upcoming Senate action and elections, have heightened the partisan back-and-forth. In his weekly address, President Obama said the extension is “one place that Washington should start” to make a positive difference in the lives of Americans. But he also made it clear who was at fault, and why the benefits expired in the first place.

“Just a few days after Christmas, more than one million of our fellow Americans lost a vital economic lifeline — the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet while they look for a job.  Republicans in Congress went home for the holidays and let that lifeline expire,” Obama stated. President Obama went on to say that finding a solution needed to be the first order of business for Congress. He noted that a bipartisan group was working to craft a three-month extension, and that he would sign such a bill if it came to his desk.

“For decades, Republicans and Democrats put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers, even when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today,” Obama said. “Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year’s resolution to do the right thing, and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now.”

Republicans have expressed a willingness to extend the program, provided it is paid for. The three-month extension will reportedly cost $6.5 billion. Appearing on ABC‘s “This Week,” Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) explained his stance. “What I have always said is that it needs to be paid for, but we also need to do something for long-term unemployed people and that is we need to create something new that would create jobs. So what I’d like to do when we get back is one, if we extend it we pay for it, but two, we add something to it that would create jobs.”

About unemployment benefits, Paul went on to add that after a prolonged length of time, “it provides some disincentive to work, and that there are many studies that indicate this.” He would like to see a program that prevents long-term unemployment in the first place. Schumer also appeared on the show, and seized on Paul’s comments about the benefits being a “disincentive.”

“I think it’s a little insulting, a bit insulting to American workers when Rand Paul says that unemployment insurance is a disservice,” Schumer stated. “They want to work, they don’t want unemployment benefits. They’re just hanging on with unemployment benefits, you cut them off, they may lose the house they paid for, take their kids out of college. So I would hope he would reconsider, past the three month extension.” The bill is bipartisan, but just barely. It was proposed by Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev). Heller remains the only Republican to have signed on to the law.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) released a statement saying under current conditions, he cannot support the bill. “I will not vote to bring this legislation to the floor unless senators have an opportunity to debate and vote on the many good ideas for helping unemployed Americans find a job. Unfortunately, the Senate appears to be starting the new year just like the old one ended, with the Democratic leader bypassing committee consideration and cutting off all amendments and debate on an important issue.”

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