The 2014 unemployment extension that Democrats have been attempting to pass since April may have finally seen its doom sealed Tuesday when the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a highway bill that raids the same funds that were supposed to go toward paying for the unemployment extension.
“This is now the second time they’ve taken offsets intended to help the unemployed and used them to pay for other priorities,” said Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, who co-sponsors the unemployment extension bill currently awaiting action in the Senate.
Obama Backs Republicans’ Unemployment Fund Raid
But this time, the effort to gut the potential unemployment extension by taking its funding and using it to pay for a patch to the 2014 Highway Trust Fund has the support of President Barack Obama.
“With surface transportation funding running out and hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk later this summer, the Administration supports House passage of H.R. 5021 [the Highway Trust Fund bill],” the Obama administration said in a statement. “This legislation would provide for continuity of funding for the Highway Trust Fund during the height of the summer construction season and keep Americans at work repairing the Nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, and transit systems.”
The problem, Reed and supporters of the unemployment extension say, is that the proposed funding mechanism for the highway bill, important as that bill may be, is the exact same source of funds proposed for the unemployment bill.
As the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call explained: “The roughly $10 billion highway patch is paid for with extension of customs fees and with so-called pension smoothing — which delays payments made by corporations to their pension funds, temporarily boosting their profits and taxes paid to the government.”
Unemployed Wait For Presidential Action To Pass Extension
Obama has made numerous speeches calling on Republicans to back a new extension of unemployment benefits, and blasting them for backing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans — with no funding mechanism to offset the revenue lost by those tax cuts — while denying unemployment benefits to “more than three million Americans who are out there looking every single day for a new job,” even though those benefits would in fact, be paid for.
But Obama has taken no legislative steps and twisted no Republican arms to get the unemployment extension through the House, where a previous version of the 2014 bill died at the end of May after Republican Speaker John Boehner refused to even let it come up for discussion on the floor.
As Roll Call, again, pointed out, “Obama has yet to hold any Republican priorities hostage to an unemployment extension.”
But Republicans have not only held the unemployment bill hostage, they have claimed that by not passing an unemployment extension, they have actually lowered the 2014 unemployment rate — a claim contradicted by data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.