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GOP Blocks Vote on Unemployment Extension for 99ers

February 18, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Job losses in the recession peaked almost exactly two years ago, and the situation has barely improved since. Current law allows unemployed workers to receive a maximum of two years of unemployment insurance benefits, so millions of people who lost their jobs in the recession are getting cut off from government support right now with little chance of finding work. These folks are often referred to as “99ers,” 99 being the maximum number of benefit weeks. Despite the situation, House Republicans yesterday used an arcane rule to block an amendment that would have provided 14 more weeks of benefits for these people.

Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post reports:

The House is currently debating a “continuing resolution” that will fund government operations through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, in lieu of a formal budget. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) attempted to amend the CR with her provision to provide another 14 weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits for people who’ve been out of work for six months or longer.

In remarks on the House floor after midnight, Lee noted, as HuffPost did earlier this week, that her amendment to the CR is the only one of the hundreds proposed that addresses the jobs crisis.

“Of the nearly 600 amendments to the continuing resolution that have been proposed or considered so far, this amendment is the only one, mind you, that deals with the problem of the unemployed directly,” Lee said. “Don’t resort to parliamentary maneuvers to block help to the unemployed.”

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) then used a parliamentary maneuver to successfully block the amendment.

“An amendment to an appropriation bill shall not be in order in changing existing law,” said Rehberg. “The amendment directly changes existing law.”

The amendment, based on a bill introduced by Lee and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), would modify the tax-cut deal that President Barack Obama struck with congressional Republicans in December. That deal reauthorized tax cuts for the rich for two years and 73 weeks of federal benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.

The kicker is that the amendment could have easily been drafted so that it did not change existing law. The amendment, which is identical to H.R.589, would have added 14 weeks to the length of Tier I benefits. If it instead added the 14 weeks by creating a new tier it would have qualified under the rules governing amendments for the continuing resolution and been givend a vote. Sure, Scott and Lee could have been more cautious with their amendment, but the Republicans did not have to block it. Rules like the one used by Rehberg t block the vote are routinely ignored.

At this point it’s unclear when the Democrats will have another shot at holding a vote on this. The Republican leadership is not going to bring the bill to the floor under regular order, so it will have to happen in the form of an amendment to a larger bill. It may be months before the Republicans hold another open debate that allows members to offer amendments.

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