“I’ve served my country, honorable discharge …. I’ve done everything right. College, school, no crime, no record. Pay my taxes. Make sure my daughter went to school … Got her in college.
“And I’m sitting here struggling. I’m now ready to take a street sweeper job if they would offer it to me. So I’m asking you the million dollar question. What am I supposed to do right now to keep a roof over my head, food in my stomach, clothes on my back, car insurance paid?”
The desperate woman whom I’m quoting was addressing a spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
She was part of a group of advocates and jobless workers who were delivering petitions, representing some half million signatures, urging the top Republican leaders in both the House and Senate to let Congress members vote on a bill to renew Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
McConnell’s spokesperson says to her, “I can only tell you what we do here in the Senate. I have no control over your life.”
But his boss sure does. If he hadn’t locked horns with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a bill renewing EUC would now be awaiting an uncertain future in the House.
As things stand, more than 1.6 million long-term jobless workers and their families may have no source of cash income. Nearly 72,000 more are likely to lose their benefits by the end of this week. And no one, to my knowledge, is predicting an end to the stalemate.
Majority Leader Reid offered the Republicans two options. The first, which had earlier gotten enough Republican votes to open debate, would have renewed EUC for three months, back-dated to when they expired.
Costs for this version — about $6.4 million over 10 years* (less than 0.014% of the federal budget) — were not offset.
Well, Republicans insisted on an offset. The second version, which would have renewed EUC through November, provided one — and cut back on the number of weeks the program would cover.
Republicans didn’t like this bill either. They wanted to propose other offsets in the form of amendments, but only for the three-month, stopgap bill.
Reid limited the number of amendments they could offer — presumably so they couldn’t tie up the process indefinitely.
He also insisted that any amendment would have to pass with 60 votes. McConnell understandably objected because 15 Democrats would have had to vote in favor, assuming all Republicans did.
So Republicans wouldn’t provide the votes needed to move forward on either bill.
It’s hard to know whether they’re sincerely trying to get a bill they could vote for or, as Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has suggested, reframing the debate as an issue of fiscal responsibility so as to mask their party’s ideological hostility to any EUC renewal.
What’s not hard to know is that some of the amendments they’d proposed seem like what are commonly called poison pills, i.e., amendments deliberately designed to repel a bill’s supporters. More about these in a separate post.
Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post reports that Senator Jack Reed, who’s been leading the charge for EUC renewal, has been talking with “a handful of Republicans” about a pay-for “that would make them happy.”
They may strike a deal, but like as not, it will be for three months — until the end of March, assuming it’s retroactive. The Republican majority probably won’t like it. Some Democrats may not either, considering what would make some in that handful happy.
So will we have another kerfuffle over amendments? And if not, what are the prospects in the House, when Speaker John Boehner has put additional conditions on a renewal?
I can’t help feeling that the desperate woman and all the other jobless workers who’ve got the same million dollar question are pawns in a partisan strategy that has little or nothing to do with fiscal responsibility.
* The Congressional Budget Office conventionally projects costs over a 10-year period and takes account of any expected revenue increases that a measure like this would produce. The estimate thus does not mean that the federal government would continue to incur costs. It does, however, reflect some out-year revenue increases.