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Progress for 99ers Legislation

March 22, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Reps. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] have been hustling on the Hill to help the long-term unemployed. Since they introduced their bill to extend unemployment insurance to the approximately 3.9 million people who have been out of work for more than two years and have exhausted their benefits — so-called “99ers” — they have almost doubled their list of co-sponsors. And now they’ve secured a meeting with the Republican House leadership to discuss ways that the bill could be offset and, presumably, moved ahead in the legislative process.

Arthur Delaney at the Huffington Post reports:

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have agreed to meet with two Democrats to discuss longshot legislation for the long-term unemployed, the members’ offices confirmed Tuesday.

Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced legislation earlier this year to provide 14 additional weeks of unemployment benefits to Americans who’ve been out of work for six months or longer. Lee and Scott have spoken frequently about the struggles of so-called “99ers” — people who still haven’t found work after exhausting the maximum 99 weeks of benefits available in some states.

The Lee-Scott proposal received zero initial support from Republicans because it would add roughly $16 billion to the federal budget deficit. Lee and Scott later announced they’d be open to finding budget cuts to offset the cost of the benefits, something Democrats have generally refused to do for federal extended jobless aid typically enacted during recessions.

Given that concession, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have agreed to meet with Lee and Scott sometime in the next few weeks to discuss possible cuts to fund the benefits.

There have been some shaky indications in the past that Speaker Boehner could get behind adding more weeks of unemployment insurance if they are offset. For example, Kelly Wiedemerof at the Denver Examiner reported in January that a spokesperson in Speaker John Boehner’s [R, OH] office told her that Boehner “supports U.I. extensions if they are paid for.”

Most Democrats, Lee and Scott included, prefer to not offset the costs of unemployment benefits because they believe doing so would negate the stimulative economic effects of directing funds to people who are most likely to spend it. Analyses from the Congressional Budget Office and many economists support their position. However, with the Republicans in control of the House, sticking to that position would almost certainly mean that nothing gets done for the 99ers until 2013 at the earliest. The Democrats are going to have to choose between ideal economic policy and pragmatic action to help the hardest hit victims of the financial crisis and the recession. If the Republicans are willing to negotiate in good faith on this, I think the Democrats will ultimately give in too. That said, finding $16 billion in cuts that can win a majority vote in both chambers is going to be extraordinarily difficult. Remember, the House Republicans are demanding spending cuts as offsets, so closing tax loopholes and the like won’t be in play.

Reps. Lee and Scott are pictured above. Photo courtesy of TalkMediaNews used under a CC license.

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