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99er Advocates Meet With Republican Leadership

April 14, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Reps. Barbara Lee [D, CA-9] and Bobby Scott [D, VA-3] — the long-term unemployed’s lead advocates in Congress — managed to sit down with the Republican House leadership this morning to talk about their bill, H.R.589, to extend unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work for two years or longer. Just getting a meeting with the Republicans who control the legislative flow in the House is a big step forward for Lee and Scott. But, unfortunately, it does not sound like a lot of progress was made during the discussion.

As they left the meeting, reporters caught Lee and Scott in the hall and peppered them with questions. The basic gist appears to be that Boehner and Cantor understand the seriousness of the problem, but that there is still a disagreement about whether or not the costs of an extension for the long-term unemployed should be offset with new revenues or spending cuts. According to Lee, they did not discuss offset options at the meeting because she and Rep. Scott would prefer to finance the bill with deficit spending. “We didn’t talk about [specific offsets] because we still maintain it’s emergency spending,” she told reporters after the meeting.

That’s a losing position. Similar, “emergency” legislation failed to pass last session when the Democrats had overwhelming majorities in both chambers because there was not enough support for the cost without offsets. Now that the Republicans control the House and have enough votes in the Senate to stop anything they want, getting this through as emergency spending is even less likely. Even the Obama Administration and the Congressional Black Caucus leadership consider the costs of the bill “prohibitive.”

The only serious option at this point is to find an offset. In January, a spokesperson for Speaker John Boehner [R, OH-8] said in reference to the long-term unemployment benefits bill that he “supports U.I. extensions if they are paid for.” Now, it’s possible that Boehner is confusing the long-term extension bill with extending the existing tiers of benefits, and it’s also possible that an offset that is acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans is non existent, but all signs point to this avenue as the only one worth pursuing. Hopefully Lee and Scott will get another meeting with the leadership, and maybe next time they’ll have a more detailed talk about what it would take to actual get this done.

Video of Lee and Scott after the meeting can be viewed here.

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