Some Reactions to Republican Obstruction of Jobless Aid

Chris Bowers:

[Friday] on a press call with bloggers, in response to the impending Republican filibuster of the jobs bill, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said that Senate Republicans “want the economy to fail.” She additionally said that it was the most cynical political move she has ever seen, likely because Republicans stand to gain from the economic pain they will cause.

Senator Stabenow also said that the moderate Republicans she was negotiating with–such as Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown–were negotiating in bad faith. Democrats satisfied all of their concerns, Stabenow said, but “they kept changing what the concerns were.”

Annie Lowrey with more from Senator Stabenow:

On Republican obstruction:

It’s an extremely maddening and concerning time right now, and frankly we need your help. We’re in a situation where, after spending at least eight weeks on the floor trying to pass this jobs bill, which focuses on creating jobs as well as helping people … not one Republican is willing to help us stop this Republican filibuster.

On who Republicans are helping:

When you look as well underneath they are protecting wealthy investors, corporations sending jobs overseas and big oil companies — because we have included provisions to close tax loopholes in each of those areas.

Republicans are standing with them at a time when we desperately need to keep this economic recovery going and we desperately need to help people who are hurt. In Michigan, it’s estimated that by the end of this month we’re going to have 87,400 who are going to lose help, temporary help, in their unemployment benefits, by the end of this month. That’s literally the difference between somebody keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and a little gas in the car to go look for work.

I’m frankly outraged about what has been happening.

If they can stop the recovery from occurring, if they can create as much pain as possible, people will be angry and will not vote at all or will vote against those in the majority. This is a very cynical political strategy and I sure hope it doesn’t work.

digby:

Everybody’s talking about Senator Debbie Stabenow’s aggressive words today accusing the Republicans of tanking the economy and throwing millions out of work for political gain. I don’t see why this is even slightly controversial. The GOP is a party whose mouthpieces said from the very beginning that they wanted the president to fail and that they were planning his “Waterloo.” And anyone who understood how our government works (or even understands simple logic) knew that saying that in the midst of an economic crisis translates to making people suffer. There was no other way to interpret that so it makes sense.

Mike Hall at AFL-CIO Now Blog:

Republican partisan politics won—and working families lost—again last night when Senate Republicans for the fourth time this year blocked a bill that would revive the extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program that is the last lifeline for millions of jobless workers.

The Republican blockade means about 250,000 unemployed workers a week lose their benefits, which averages around $300 a week, while Republican lawmakers take in a nifty $3,346.16 a week of taxpayers’ money.

Theda Skocpol at TPM Cafe:

The same old story happens again and again. Dems in the House pass reasonable legislation, and Senate Dems dicker with centrists and Republicans over “compromises,” weakening the legislation step by step over many weeks, only to find zero Republican support in the end.

The public has no idea what is going on, and just blames Democrats, who appear to be in charge in DC. Now it is happening again with vital public spending for national economy recovery — state aid, unemployment relief, and adjustments in taxes and Medicare payments. This legislation is not just important to this or that group. It matters for keeping any semblance of national economic growth going, for creating and saving hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The President, Congressional leaders, and Democrats of all stripes should be yelling day in, day out, that REPUBLICANS ARE SABOTAGING NATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY. AND PREVENTING JOB GROWTH, JUST FOR POLITICAL ADVANTAGE. That should be the message all the time, led by the President.

Rachel Maddow with guest Ezra Klein:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

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Republican Sado-Economics Prevails in the Senate

The tyranny of the Republican minority in the Senate was on display again Thursday as they continued to block a vote on a bill to extend unemployment insurance, provide aid to states for Medicaid and jobs, and remove some of the gaping loopholes that let wealthy hedge fund managers and corporations avoid paying a fair share in taxes.

By a vote of 57 to 41 Republicans succeeded in blocking an actual vote on yet another revision of H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act. Forty Republicans voted “No”, as did Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). Fifty-six Democrats voted “Yes”, and were joined this time by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the aging Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) did not vote, although Byrd had indicated he would have voted “Yes” if his vote were needed to get to 60 votes.

Watching the vote on C-SPAN2, it appeared at the end that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed his vote to “No” so as to keep the bill alive, but that is not reflected in the posted roll call.

While it is not clear what happens next in the Senate, early indications are that Democrats are not giving up and that work will resume to get the bill passed.

Before the vote we noted it had been 23 days since Congress let the federal extended unemployment insurance programs lapse. Now it’s 27 days — with no end in sight. An estimated 40,000 long-term jobless workers a day are now joining the nearly 1 million who have already had their unemployment insurance benefits stop completely.

It’s not like there isn’t a consensus in the Senate in favor of the bill. Democrats have a clear majority to pass the bill. What they don’t have is the 60 votes needed to end the Republican-led filibuster and allow a simple up or down majority vote on the bill. That is the tyranny of the Republican minority, and it is not only threatening the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans, it also threatens to drive the economy as a whole back into an even deeper and longer-term recession.

While it is infuriating, it is also instructive to review what has transpired in the course of the effort to pass this bill.

Beginning last December, the effort was initiated, through this bill, to extend unemployment and other Recovery Act programs through the end of 2010, to help provide some underpinning to a recovery and strengthen supports for struggling families and those seeking new employment. Republicans continuously blocked those efforts, forcing lengthy legislative battles to simply extend the programs for temporary one-month and two-month periods.

With the last of those stopgap measures set to expire this June 2nd, Democrats presented a new version of the extension bill. They presented more paid-for provisions by including measures to eliminate many tax-avoidance schemes and loopholes that give tax breaks to wealth investment managers, to corporations that ship jobs overseas and to big oil companies.

Republicans said “No” and blocked the bill from coming to a vote.
Readers can reference all of our recent coverage through the tag here, but I’ll try to summarize.

All along, Democrats have sought the votes to pass the bill by reducing its scale and scope and granting concessions on some aspects of the tax loophole provisions. They agreed to reduce the unemployment extension by a month, from the end of December to the end of November.

In the House, they stripped out all of the critically-needed aid to state Medicaid programs as well as the federal COBRA insurance subsidy for eligible unemployment workers.

The Senate has tried to restore those provisions, first by including the state Medicaid support, and offering an amendment to restore COBRA. Republicans continued to block that version. Democrats then agreed to modify some of the tax loophole provisions to protect more of the income of wealthy hedge fund and other investment managers — hoping to attract some Republican support. That didn’t work either.

Democrats then eliminated the provision that adds $25 a week to all state and federal unemployment insurance benefits. Republicans still said “No.”

Then, in the latest version of the bill, Democrats cut the aid to states by nearly half, and reduced future food stamp benefits by more than $9 billion. Currently, more than 40 million Americans rely on the food stamp program to help feed their families.

But, as Thursday’s vote proved, all of that was not enough. Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, still voted to block the bill. So did Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and Ohio’s George Voinovich, and every other Republican.

What is clear is that the Republicans want to protect the wealthy and the powerful special interests. And they do not care if it inflicts pain on average Americans, working families and the unemployed. Worse, it appears that, having driven the economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, they are now intent on knocking the legs out from under any recovery and sending the economy careening back into an ever-deeper recession.

And they want to then blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.

With Senate Republicans, it’s sado-economics meets sado-politics.

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23 Days Since Congress Let Unemployment Benefits Lapse

An estimated 40,000 long-term jobless workers a day have had their federal unemployment insurance payments stop since Congress allowed the program to lapse over Memorial Day weekend. Of the 6.8 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more, the number who have lost their benefits is now approaching 1 million.

Yet another version of the bill to extend these benefits may come up for votes in the Senate today or tomorrow. Every Republican Senator and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) have thus far continuously blocked the bill.

Reuters is reporting that while Democrats have offered a series of changes and concessions in an effort to gain at least two Republican votes, the outcome is still in doubt:

In an effort to break a stalemate over a package of unemployment aid and business tax breaks, Senate Democrats on Wednesday offered a compromise that would pare proposed aid to cash-strapped states.

Democrats had hope the changes to the legislation, which also would increase taxes on investment fund managers, would attract some Republicans support, but Senate aides said that appears doubtful. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing for a vote on the legislation by the end of the week.

In an effort to trim the cost, the new version pares down proposed Medicaid aid to states struggling to balance their budgets. States are pushing Congress to extend beyond the December expiration date the extra funds for the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor that were included in the stimulus plan passed last year. The program takes up an average 20 percent of state budgets.

Time is running out for lawmakers. Most states begin their fiscal year next week, and many banked on an extension of the Medicaid boost when drafting their budgets.

The extra Medicaid funding would decline to 3.2 percent in the first three months of 2011 and to 1.2 percent through June. A draft floated on Tuesday had a phase-down to 5.3 percent and then 3.2 percent.

Senate Democratic leaders are trying to get support from a recalcitrant group of Republicans including Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who appear to be getting a lot of calls from constituents, as well as Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Sixty votes are needed to overcome the Republican-led filibuster.

Every day it becomes more and more clear that the Republican refusal to allow a vote to restore the extended unemployment insurance programs has little to do with their oft-repeated but disingenuous “deficit” concerns.

From today’s editorial in the Washington Post:

THE LONG-TERM unemployment rate is at a record level. So is the federal deficit. Both of these are serious concerns. But it is possible — in theory, anyway — for Congress to be both compassionate and prudent. In the short term, lawmakers should resolve the logjam that has allowed federal benefits to lapse for more than 900,000 unemployed.

More than 40 percent of the unemployed have been without work for six months. More alarming, nearly one-fourth have been jobless for a year or longer, according to calculations by the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative. Generally, states pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits; in periods of high unemployment, the federal government steps in to cover additional weeks. During the current recession, benefits can last up to 99 weeks.

On June 1, that emergency federal program expired, and the Senate has been unable to muster the 60 votes needed to reinstate it, as part of a package that would also include extending some expiring tax cuts and providing extra Medicaid money to cash-strapped states. Without congressional action, more than 2 million of the unemployed will have lost benefits by July 10, some after just 26 weeks.

Part of what’s holding up Senate action is a dispute over whether lawmakers have gone too far — too far! — in closing tax loopholes for the wealthy to help pay for the package. One involves “carried interest,” the mechanism that investment bankers and venture capitalists use to pay lower tax rates on their income from doing deals. Doing away with this tax dodge would have raised $24 billion over 10 years; that has now been whittled down to $13 billion. The same is happening with an effort to close the so-called John Edwards loophole, under which small partnerships such as law firms avoid paying Medicare payroll taxes by casting their income as profits rather than salary. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), a key potential vote, has called this provision “a poison pill.”

Amazingly, while senators work to keep these loopholes open, they are trying to trim the final cost of the package by cutting close to $8 billion in future food stamp benefits. What kind of priorities does this choice reflect?

This morning the AP reports that the continued weakness in the labor market is now even more of a concern in light of a drop in durable goods orders:

The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 last week. That’s slightly better than the 460,000 forecast by economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

However, initial jobless claims are still above levels that would signal employers are ramping up hiring. Claims have remained high in recent months, calling into question whether a strong, sustained recovery can occur without significant job growth.

A second report showed orders for durable goods fell last month for the first time in six months. Orders for big-ticket goods fell 1.1 percent in May, slightly better than the 1.3 percent drop predicted.

Five of six recent national polls show that Americans are far more concerned about jobs and the economic recovery than they are about the budget deficit. FiveThirtyEight reports (via Ben Somberg):

A Pew Research / National Journal poll from early June asked “Which of the following national economic issues worries you most?” Number one was “job situation” with 41%. “Federal budget deficit” got 23%.

An NBC / Wall Street Journal poll from early May asked “Please tell me which one of these items you think should be the top priority for the federal government.” Sure enough, “job creation and economic growth” won with 35%. “The deficit and government spending” got 20%.

A Fox News poll also in early May got even more dramatic results. “Economy and jobs” topped the priority list with 47%, while “deficit, spending” garnered only 15%.

A CBS / NYT poll in early April found 27% prioritizing “jobs”, 27% the “economy” and 5% prioritizing “budget deficit/national debt.”

In the USA Today / Gallup poll from late May . . . participants were asked “How serious a threat to the future well-being of the United States do you consider each of the following.” For “federal government debt”, 40% said extremely serious, 39% very serious, and 15% somewhat serious. For “unemployment”, 33% said extremely serious, 50% said very serious, and 15% said somewhat serious.

a newer Gallup poll, from a week ago, asking “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” finds the economy and jobs on top. “Economy in general” gets 28%, “Unemployment/Jobs” gets 21%, and “Federal budget deficit” gets 7%.

Twenty-three days and counting. When will the Senate get its wake-up call? Call toll-free 888-254-5087.

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Sado-Economics Wins Again in the Senate

In the umpteenth iteration of a jobless aid extension bill, one in which Democrats agreed to cut out more than $20 billion, an attempt to overcome the Republican-led filibuster failed last night on a vote of 56 to 40, four short of the required 60 votes.

As we reported yesterday in ‘Pseudo-economics Becomes Sado-economics’, the latest version of the bill (H.R. 4213) removed the program that provides an extra $25 per week to those receiving unemployment compensation.

Apparently taking $100 a month from jobless workers wasn’t enough to satisfy Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) who joined every voting Republican to continue to block the measure.

When the Senate passed a short-term, two-month extension of the federal unemployment benefit programs in April, Republican Senators George Voinovich (OH), Susan Collins (ME) and Olympia Snowe (ME) voted to pass that bill. Thus far, they have continued to vote “No” on the current measure that would extend eligibility through November.

I have been on the phone with Senate offices all morning, specifically with the offices of Lieberman, Nelson, Voinovich, Collins and Snowe. My message for them has been simple: Drop your support of this sadistic filibuster. And then I add a rather rhetorical question: If taking $25 a week away from jobless workers like myself wasn’t enough to get your vote, how much more pain do you want to inflict?

You can call them too, toll-free at 888-254-5087.

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Votes Expected on Unemployment Benefits Bill

Late yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) filed for cloture on the long-delayed bill that includes an extension of existing federal unemployment benefits programs through the end of November. That means that 60 votes will be needed just to bring the bill up for a vote after the requisite 30-hour ‘cloture clock’ expires. That cloture vote could come as early as tomorrow. But it may come later, as Senate Democrats appear to still be seeking the votes to get to 60.

This afternoon, meanwhile, votes are expected on amendments to the bill, perhaps including Senator Bob Casey’s (D-PA) to restore the COBRA subsidy provision for newly unemployed workers.

This morning’s New York Times editorial is titled ‘The Unemployed Held Hostage’:

Since June 1, when federal unemployment benefits began to expire, an estimated 325,000 jobless workers have been cut off. That number will swell to 1.25 million by the end of the month unless Congress extends the benefits. The Senate, so far, has failed to act.

Some senators, including Democrats, have balked at an unrelated provision that would begin to close a tax loophole enjoyed by some of the richest Americans. You heard right. Desperately needed unemployment benefits have been held hostage to a tax break for the rich, and the Senate’s Democratic leadership has had to delay and finagle to get its own caucus in line.

State-provided unemployment benefits generally last for 26 weeks, and the federal government picks up the tab after that, provided Congress approves the extensions. There is no disagreement over the need: 46 percent of the nation’s 15 million jobless workers have been unemployed for more than six months — a higher level than at any time since the government began keeping track in 1948.

The Times goes on to correctly state that the unemployment and other safety net provisions are rightly considered emergency spending, but that other provisions such as extensions of business tax credits should be paid for. And that’s why the bill includes closing or reducing the tax loopholes for wealthy hedge fund and other investment managers.

Closing the loophole would raise an estimated $25 billion over 10 years. Many private equity mavens, venture capitalists and other partnerships have lobbied to keep as much of the loophole as they can. Most Republicans and some Democratic senators — including John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mark Warner of Virginia and Maria Cantwell of Washington — are doing their bidding.

In its version of the bill, the House closed part of the loophole: fund managers would retain the special low rate on 25 percent of their privileged earnings. The loophole measure was watered down even more in the Senate. And investment partnerships are still lobbying.

Senators aren’t likely to vote on the bill until the end of this week. Then it would need to be reconciled with the House-passed version. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands more jobless Americans will lose benefits.

The right thing to do is obvious. The House and Senate should immediately extend unemployment benefits and aid to states and close the fund-managers’ tax loophole — completely.

That so many senators have balked is a bad sign for the economy and for the most vulnerable Americans. The fact that lawmakers are not willing to ask the nation’s wealthiest to pay their fair share of taxes also makes a mockery of all their talk about deficit reduction. (emphasis added)

To overcome the Republican-led filibuster, on both the COBRA amendment and the bill itself, the votes of a number of the following Senators will be needed:

Bayh (D-IN)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Nelson (D-NE)
Webb (D-VA)
Warner (D-VA)
Kerry (D-MA)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Brown (R-MA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Snowe (R-ME)
Collins (R-ME)

You can call the Senate toll free at 888-254-5087.

Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska has already been pretty clear that he’s a “No” vote. That means that even if all the other Democrats can be convinced to vote “Yes”, the bill would still need 2 Republicans.

For the sake of the Senators still wavering, while hundreds of thousands of long-term unemployed workers have already lost jobless benefits, economist Dean Baker reports today:

Senator Nelson Proposes to Reduce GDP by $120 Billion, Eliminate 800,000 Jobs

The Washington Post reported on the opposition in Congress to spending more money to aid financially strapped state and local governments or unemployed workers. It highlighted the complaint of Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson that President Obama’s request for $80 billion was in appropropriate in a situation where the government has a $12 trillion debt.

It would have been helpful to include some discussion of the economic implications of the opposition to this bill. The economy will be weaker if Congress refuses to appropriate the funds requested by the Obama administration. Assuming a multiplier of 1.5 (most of the proposed spending is generally estimated to have a relatively high mutliplier), not spending this money will reduce GDP by $120 billion.

When it outlined its stimulus plan, the Obama administration assumed that a 1 percentage point increase in GDP creates 1 million jobs. This implies that a loss of $120 billion in output would lead to a loss of 800,000 jobs. It would help readers assess the proposed spending if they understood its likely economic impact.

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Restore COBRA Aid Extension in H.R. 4213

In the seemingly never ending saga of getting a bill passed to continue the extended federal unemployment insurance programs — one that has been going on now for four months — the Senate has returned to take up H.R. 4213 yet again.

But the bill they have before them lacks the previous provisions to extend the federal COBRA premium subsidy, those provisions having been removed two weeks ago in the House.

As I reported last week, the version passed by the House before the Memorial Day recess was a clear indication that we had reached a dangerous crossroads in the effort to aid those hardest hit by the Great Recession and provide a foundation for a job market recovery.

The COBRA subsidy, originally included in the Recovery Act and since extended several times, provides for reduced premium payments for up to 15 months for those who qualify and wish to continue health insurance coverage with their former employer’s plan. Since the employer no longer contributes to the premium payments, the COBRA subsidy picks up 65% of the monthly premiums, allowing the unemployed to maintain at least some semblance of affordable coverage.

According to Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, on average the monthly COBRA premium for a family would be $1,107 nationally. The average monthly payment from unemployment insurance is $1,313. Without the COBRA subsidy for the unemployed, COBRA premiums would gobble up an average of 84 percent of unemployment benefits. In a number of states, the average COBRA premiums are actually higher than the average unemployment payments.

Unless the COBRA subsidy is restored in the bill, private insurance companies would be able to suck up huge chunks of many jobless workers’ unemployment payments, despite the recent passage of health care reform.

Unless the COBRA subsidy is restored in the bill, the ranks of the uninsured would swell dramatically, despite the recent passage of health care reform.

Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) has an amendment to restore the COBRA provisions to H.R. 4213. Here’s the announcement from Sen. Casey:

Amendment to Reinstate COBRA Premium Assistance

WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) were joined by fourteen other senators today in introducing an amendment to the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010 that would reinstate the expired COBRA health care premium assistance for laid off workers.

“Millions of Americans have been hard hit by the recession and lost their jobs through no fault of their own,” said Senator Casey. “Unfortunately, some people in Washington want to pull up the ladder and take away help for these struggling families. Not extending COBRA premium assistance will hurt hundreds of thousands of people in Pennsylvania and across the country and it will add further strain on our recovering economy.”

“We need to prevent unemployed workers for joining the rolls of the uninsured,” Brown said. “When there are few jobs to be had, the inability to afford COBRA premiums becomes an even more acute problem. I’ve received letters and emails from Ohioans who describe how COBRA is more expensive than rent or food. That’s why we need to extend this subsidy for workers who have recently lost their jobs.”

The COBRA assistance expired on May 31st. The Casey-Brown amendment would extend the program through November 30, 2010.

The amendment to extend COBRA premium assistance is also cosponsored by Senators Pat Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), John Kerry (D-MA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jack Reed (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Roland Burris (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and AL Franken (D-MN).

In addition, Senators Casey and Brown also sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) urging support for an extension of COBRA premium assistance. This letter was also signed by Senators Leahy, Levin, Chris Dodd (D-CT), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Kerry, Harkin, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Akaka, Wyden, Reed, Stabenow, Lautenberg, Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Whitehouse, Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Gillibrand, Begich, Franken and Burris.

Without the extension of the COBRA Premium Assistance Program a report from the National Employment Law Projects predicts as many as 150,000 Americans each month will lose out on the subsidies necessary to afford quality healthcare.

A study by Families USA shows that 4 million Americans, including 98,500 Pennsylvanians lost their employer-based coverage due to job loss in 2009.

The average cost of COBRA family coverage is three-quarters of monthly unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania and 40 other states. In some states, health premiums actually cost more than monthly unemployment benefits, slowly driving families further into debt.

Call your Senators toll-free at 888-254-5087 and tell them to support the Casey amendment to H.R. 4213 to restore the COBRA premium subsidy for unemployed workers.

And, since the amendment will almost certainly face a 60 vote threshold, the votes of the following Senators will be particularly critical:

Bayh (IN)
McCaskill (MO)
Nelson (NE)
Webb (VA)
Warner (VA)
Brown (MA)
Voinovich (OH)
Snowe (ME)
Collins (ME)

Make those calls now… then come back and I’ll run down some more on the bill:

Also cut short in the House bill was the date of the federal unemployment program extension to November 30 from December 31. The Senate’s version maintains that eligibility expiration, so that those who became jobless from December of last year through May of this year and exhaust their 26-weeks of regular state unemployment would still be eligible. That, of course, is assuming the bill passes, which is not a certainty. At the same time, the November 30 date means that newly unemployed workers, those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own after May 31 will only be eligible for the regular 26-weeks of state benefits.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits are still averaging nearly 460,000 a week, nearly 40 percent more than when the recession began. Those claims, as well as continuing claims, had been declining consistently but have recently flattened out.

MayInitClaims
source: Paper Economy
Click here for a large format interactive version.

With many employers still laying off workers and a still anemic job market, newly unemployed workers will be facing a shorter period of benefits coverage even as long-term unemployment continues to soar. The average duration of unemployment is now 34 weeks. Nearly 6.8 million workers have been jobless for six months or more, and they represent 46 percent of all unemployed workers.

The Senate’s substitute for the House bill does include the $24 billion in additional FMAP aid to states to help support their Medicaid programs, another provision like COBRA that had been stripped out of the House version.

The extension of federal benefits through the end of November is an essential bare minimum to help the long-term unemployed and their local communities. Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project said today that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, unemployment insurance is the most effective form of economic stimulus, creating $1.93 in GDP for every $1 in benefits. “Our real deficit is a jobs deficit,” she said on a conference call with reporters. “It is urgent that Congress act to restore the extended unemployment and COBRA programs as quickly as possible.”

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300,000 Jobless to Lose Federal Unemployment Aid Next Week

As I write, the House of Representatives is finally taking up the scaled down jobs bill that includes a continuation of existing federal unemployment insurance programs through November 30 instead of December 31.

But even if it passes the House today, eligibility for the extended federal jobless aid programs will expire — at least temporarily — on June 2nd. Shameless disregard and deficit fear-mongering have delayed action in the House for so long that even if the Senate knew what bill it was getting from the House, it wouldn’t have the time to act before June 2nd. The Senate has nothing scheduled today, and won’t return until June 8th.

Meanwhile, according to a report from the National Employment Law Project (NELP):

The Department of Labor has reported that more than 300,000 workers will run out of benefits by June 12th, the end of the first week Congress returns from recess.

NELP estimates that if Congress fails to restore these programs 1.2 million long-term unemployed will lose jobless benefits in the month of June alone.

More than 15 million Americans are officially unemployed right now — as many, in fact, as were unemployed in 1933 at the depths of the Great Depression. Nearly 7 million have been out of work for six months or more. More than 5 million of them currently rely on the extended federal unemployment insurance programs. And those ranks have been increasing as tens of thousands each week exhaust their state-based 26 weeks of benefits.

Now, eligibility to apply for the extended federal programs, or to apply for the next Tier of benefits for those already receiving them, will start expiring next week.

Needless to say, your Senators and Representatives need to hear from you.

You can reach their offices in Washington today toll-free at 888-254-5087. And you can contact them through their state and district offices before they return to Washington June 8.

Assuming there’s a House vote today, we’ll see who in that chamber is on the side of America’s working families and the unemployed, and who’s on the side of wealthy hedge fund managers and corporations who get tax breaks to ship jobs overseas.

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Scaled Down Jobless Bill Set for House Vote

A bill including provisions to continue eligibility for extended federal unemployment programs through the end of 2010, which was expected to be taken up last week and then delayed, is being scaled back by Congressional Democrats who could not muster the votes for the larger original measure.

Excuse me for asking, but wasn’t crafting a bill that could pass the House and Senate — before these programs expire again — supposed to have been accomplished over the past two months?

Late last night Reuters was reporting:

Congressional Democrats cut the cost of a package of spending and tax hikes by nearly a third on Wednesday and delayed action for one more day as they raced to ensure passage before safety-net programs expire next week.

With some centrist lawmakers balking at the cost of the original package, House Democratic leaders scaled back unemployment benefits and doctor payments, according to a summary released late Wednesday.

The latest version of the legislation would add about $90 billion to the deficit over 10 years, down from $134 billion in the original legislation, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“We’re determined to get this bill passed by the end of the week,” said Chris Van Hollen, a member of the House Democratic leadership.

One of the key changes to the bill is that the continuation of eligibility for the extended federal jobless programs would be November 30 instead of December 31. Eligibility for those programs is currently set to expire June 2.

Like the original bill, the scaled back version does not include a ‘Tier V’ extension of the duration of unemployment coverage beyond the current programs.

The Boston Globe reports on some of the key provisions in the scaled down bill.

■ Jobless benefits and other safety net funding. Would extend several programs designed to help the poor and unemployed during the economic recovery. The ongoing extension of unemployment insurance, which is set to expire this month, would be continued until Nov. 30. COBRA benefits, also set to expire at the end of May, would also be extended through Nov. 30.

■ Summer jobs. Would help fund 300,000 jobs for those ages 16 to 24 across the country, extending programs funded through the federal stimulus.

■ Funding for states. Would extend higher-than-normal Medicaid reimbursements for the first six months of next year, at a cost of $24 billion.

■ Change in investment income: Would tax investments by investment managers as ordinary income instead of as capital gains. This would hit the wallets of venture capital and hedge fund managers and would increase federal revenues by $19 billion over 10 years.

Meanwhile, this morning the Labor Department reported 460,000 initial claims for state-based unemployment insurance last week. First-time state unemployment claims have not dipped below 400,000 for any single week since early September 2008.

Christina Romer, head of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, warned against cutting back on fiscal stimulus to support the economy and spur employment. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, Romer is quoted by the AP:

“It would be wrong to tighten fiscal policy immediately, as that would nip the nascent economic recovery in the bud”

“nothing would be more damaging than a protracted recession that brought about permanent high unemployment.”

Romer said there is a risk that current high cyclical unemployment in the U.S. could become permanent structural unemployment unless measures are taken to increase the pace of the U.S. economy’s recovery.

It seems that permanent high unemployment is exactly what Republicans would like to see.

The House is set to take up the newly scaled down H.R. 4213 today. The vote is expected to be close.

Call your Representative now. Call toll-free 1-888-254-5087. Tell them to pass H.R. 4213 today.

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Ranks of Unemployed Remain Staggeringly High

As Congress gets ready to take up the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, which includes the urgently needed continuation of eligibility for extended federal jobless benefits through the end of 2010, research shows that the number of unemployed Americans is not declining and that long-term unemployment continues to rise.

The total number of Americans officially unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, remains near its peak during the Great Recession, and while virtually unchanged in the last six months, has been increasing again recently.

Unemployed 16+ 2007-April 2010

The above graph shows the total number of unemployed aged 16 and up from the start of 2007 through April of this year. BLS database queries based on age group demographics produced the following series of graphs. They show that unemployment among younger and older workers continues to rise.

Unemployed in thousands for those aged 16 to 24:

Unemployed 16 to 24

And for workers aged 55 and up:

Unemployed 55+

The 35 to 44 age group is the only one that has shown a declining number of unemployed in the last six months:

Unemployed 35-44

The number of unemployed in the 25 to 34 age group remains high and has been rising again recently:

Unemployed 25-34

Virtually unchanged in the last six months is the number of unemployed ages 44 to 55:

Unemployed 45-54

As Laura reported earlier, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is telling Congress to “walk the walk” for jobs by passing the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes bill this week.

Meanwhile, the persistent rise in long-term unemployment continues unabated. The percent of the unemployed who have been jobless for more than six months is approaching 50 percent:

Percent Unemployed 26+wks

And the number of Americans unemployed for 27 weeks or more is now approaching 7 million.

SA Unemployed 26wks+

With 5.6 job seekers for every current job opening, the need to continue eligibility for extended federal unemployment insurance is undeniable. But for those exhausting their 26-week state benefits, and those needing to apply for their next EUC Tier I through IV, that eligibility will end June 2nd if Congress fails to act.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that 1.2 million long-term jobless Americans would lose their unemployment insurance in June alone if the bill is not passed. And an economy struggling to get traction for recovery could slide back down in the recessionary ditch.

Tell your Representative to vote for H.R. 4213 — the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act!

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Jobless Aid Bill Pushed to Next Week

The bill that would continue eligibility for extended federal unemployment benefits and other core jobless programs through the end of 2010 won’t come up in Congress until next week.

The Hill reported late yesterday:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday said a vote on legislation extending several tax and spending measures will be delayed until next week. The chamber was originally expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.

The legislation will likely be posted today to give lawmakers a chance to educate themselves on the bill’s specifics.

The current plan is for the bill to go before the House Rules Committee on either Monday or Tuesday, with the full chamber voting on it later in the week.

But swift action on the bill is needed in both the House and the Senate. The same measure would have to be passed by both chambers and signed by President Obama by June 2nd. Otherwise, millions of jobless Americans faced with exhausting the 26-week state unemployment benefit would be unable to file for the extended federal programs. Eligibility for those extended programs is set to end June 2nd, when the current two-month law passed in April expires. (For clarification: the bill does not include a new ‘Tier V’ or other duration-of-coverage extension)

In addition to the jobless aid provisions, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 4213) includes other critical economic safety net, summer youth jobs and infrastructure investment programs as well as extensions of tax credits for many individuals, families and some businesses. It would provide an obviously-needed boost to spur economic recovery, and it would finally deal a huge blow in favor of tax fairness by eliminating the loopholes that allow wealthy investment fund managers and corporations to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

So it’s no surprise that, as Laura reported earlier, Republicans are hoping to slice and dice the bill.

By delaying the measure until next week, House Democratic leaders have more time to work on gaining support from wavering Blue Dogs. It also gives grassroots supporters more time to tell Congress to pass the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loophole Act (H.R. 4213).

Support for the bill is also coming from some new quarters. Citizens for Tax Justice, which had not supported the “tax extenders” provisions in previous versions of the legislation, has gotten behind H.R. 4213 now big time:

While we have never supported the “tax extenders,” we believe that this is a more responsible approach than Congress used in the past, when the tax extenders were deficit-financed. We also believe that the loophole-closing provisions used to pay for them will enhance tax fairness. For these reasons, we believe passage of this bill would be a major victory in that it shows Congress is finally putting the economic needs of ordinary Americans ahead of tax cuts for the wealthy and powerful.

CTJ has released an excellent report (pdf) highlighting the provisions to close the massive tax loopholes that companies, hedge fund managers, private equity fund managers and others use to avoid paying their fair share in U.S. taxes.

With so much at stake for tens of millions of Americans struggling with persistent and increasing long-term unemployment, time is of the essence. Tell Congress to act and act quickly.

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