We’re doing something a little different this week. Last season, we examined S. 3706, the Americans Want to Work Act, which would have extended unemployment benefits. Since the House version of it failed to pass, the effort has been renewed in the 112th session of Congress. H.R. 589, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2011, differs only slightly from S. 3706 in specifics. The most substantial change is that supporters are now willing to consider cuts to offset the measure’s spending. This undercuts the primary reason Republicans gave for opposing previous attempts to extend unemployment compensation.
Here is Episode 11 from Season 1, you can find the one-page summary of the new legislation below the fold.
90 Second Summaries
H.R. 589: Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act of 2011
Sponsor: Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA9). Key Co-Sponsor: Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA3)
Click here to download this summary (pdf)
Cosponsors: 74 (74 Democrats, 0 Republicans). Full list at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:HR00589:@@@P
Status: Assigned to Ways and Means Committee. No hearing scheduled. Despite efforts by lead sponsors to negotiate with GOP leadership, the bill is very unlikely to move in the Republican-led House.
Senate Companion: None as of 3/11/11.
Purpose: Normally, unemployment benefits last for 26 weeks and are mostly paid for by the states. Yet in periods of high unemployment, the federal government has traditionally stepped in with emergency measures to provide extra weeks. The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, created in June 2008, currently structures these efforts with up to four new “tiers” of benefits.
As the anemic American economy drags on, the phenomenon of persistent long-term unemployment has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. Despite recent signs of recovery, there remain five unemployed workers for every job opening. As a result, those who have exhausted all available unemployment benefits, up to 99 weeks, with little hope of finding a job have become a politically salient group colloquially termed the “99ers”.
Efforts to extend additional benefits to the 99ers have failed to date, and many see the prospects for action following the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives as hopeless. Nevertheless, two progressive Democrats have continued championing the issue.
Summary: The legislation would add 14 additional weeks of unemployment insurance to the current first tier, raising the total maximum to 113 weeks. Specifically, it:
• Those newly receiving benefits would simply have 34 weeks of first-tier benefits rather than the current 20;
• UI recipients having already beyond their first tier would receive those 14 extra weeks retroactively. This includes 99ers and others who have previously exhausted all of their eligibility.
• Extends the expiration of the extended UI benefits program from June 9, 2012 to September 22, 2012.
• Is generally considered under emergency rules in order to exempt pay-go requirements, but the sponsors have recently suggested they are willing to forgo that designation and negotiate $16 billion of offsetting spending cuts.
CBO Score: None officially provided. Rep. Lee’s office has estimated the cost at $16 billion.
Supporters: Most Democrats, Economic Policy Institute, American 99ers Union, etc.
• Supporters, continuing their arguments throughout the economic downturn, believe emergency spending is necessary to reduce the unemployment rate, and this priority trumps legitimate concern over deficits and debt. They also trumpet thesuperior stimulative effects of spending on unemployment insurance benefits.
Opposition: Republicans, conservative think tanks, etc.
• In the past, opponents had insisted this bill must be deficit-neutral and offset with spending cuts. Now that supporters are open to such cuts, it is unclear what the opposition argument will be. More generally, they feel unemployment benefits cause recipients to become lazy and seek work with less vigor, thus hurting the economy.
Full bill text: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h112-589
Lee-Scott letter to House Republicans: http://lee.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=57&parentid=35§iontree=35,57&itemid=2307
Huffington Post article on the bill: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/09/99ers-house-dems-compromise_n_833545.html
House Ways and Means hearing page from 2/10: http://waysandmeans.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=223512
NYTimes blog post on labor market status: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/11/5-unemployed-for-every-job-opening/
Wikipedia on the 99ers: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/99ers
CBPP: How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available?: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3164
Heritage Foundation memo on UI: http://heritage.org/Research/Reports/2011/02/Extended-Unemployment-Insurance-Benefits