Unemployment Extension 2014: Extension Doomed? Obama, Republicans Raid Funds To Pay For Highways

Jonathan Vankin

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.

"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."

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.