The Senate reached agreement Thursday on retroactive extension of unemployment benefits. The Hill reports:
[The deal] would use several offsets to pay for the $10 billion cost of extending the benefits, including pension smoothing provisions from the 2012 highway bill, which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024.
The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
The measure would also prevent millionaires and billionaires from receiving the federal benefits.
The proposal also includes language pushed by [Sen. Susan] Collins [R-Maine] to strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and re-employment services (RES) programs, which provide help to unemployed workers when they enter their 27th week of benefits.
So far this year, senators have tried and failed to renew the program, which was put into place in June 2008 and had been extended nearly a dozen times since then.
Since UI benefits expired, there has not been a significant uptick in employment, as one might expect if UI benefits reduced the incentive to find work. So we don’t per se oppose an extension; the question is whether Republicans can get something meaningful for it.
House Republicans at various times have said they would agree to an extension if the bill had offsets; at other times GOP leadership has insisted the program must be reformed if benefits are extended. And other Republicans have argued that this should be the opportunity to get the Senate to agree to one of the House’s pro-jobs bills that sit dormant in the Senate. A House leadership aide told Right Turn last night that no decision had been made.
Let me suggest that Republicans have leverage here and should apply it precisely to the issue at hand: jobs. The House has already passed the SKILLS Act, which reforms job-training programs. That trade would signal that Republicans are willing to work with Democrats but insist on meaningful measures that help job readiness. It’s hard for Senate Democrats to say no to job-training reform, especially with UI, a big issue with their depressed base, in play. Alternatively, the House could attach a pro-growth, pro-jobs energy bill. That’s a real job creator and could use energy as means of undercutting Russia’s attempts to bully Eastern Europe. Energy, incidentally, is a sore point with vulnerable red state Senate Democrats who already got hammered when the Senate Democrats conducted their all-night talkathon on global warming (i.e. opposition to domestic energy development).
The House can try one or both (start with energy if they are going to horse trade) of these measures. What the hard-liners shouldn’t do is oppose the measure under any circumstances — thereby forcing the speaker either to go to the Dems for a clean bill or to reject it outright, giving the Democrats an election issue. (If this sounds familiar, it is; this is the same box the House extremists have put Boehner in time and again.)
Here is yet another test for the purity crowd. Do they know how to legislate — to do what they were hired to do, or is it all about riling up the base, slamming compromise and raising dollars to fight those scoundrels inside the Beltway? I fear I know the answer, but I hope I’m wrong. In any event, the speaker should do his best to pick off enough Democrats for the most pro-growth measure the House can muster. It’s time to do something positive, not just beat back bad Democratic ideas.