Keep The Heat On The Senate To Renew Jobless Benefits

Isaiah J. Poole

It has now been 34 days since the first wave of long-term unemployed Americans saw their weekly jobless benefits cut off. And it will be at least another three days of waiting before Congress makes the first step toward ending this travesty.

News reports from the Capitol this week say that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is arranging a deal with a group of Senate Republicans on renewing emergency benefits for the long-term jobless. If Reid is successful, there could be a vote in the Senate as early as Monday (though it is perhaps more likely it will be later in the week).

Senators – particularly Republicans – need to be flooded with calls this afternoon and Monday from members of the public who say, “End the stalling. Vote to reinstate emergency jobless benefits now.” Use our click-to-call tool at ourfuture.org/renewui to connect to a senator in your state now. Several thousand of you already have.

What’s being negotiated now, according to news reports, is a three-month extension of benefits to people who have been out of work longer than 26 weeks. The roughly $6 billion cost of that extension would be covered by revenues the government would be able to collect from corporations that delay contributions to pension funds in a process known as “pension smoothing.”

We’ve been on record before as rejecting the idea that an extension, especially a three-month one, should be “paid for,” or offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. In the past, we’ve treated emergency long-term jobless benefits as a response to an economic emergency; we’ve responded to the emergency and dealt with the costs when the emergency was over.

Frankly, opening the door to allowing corporations to defer pension contributions so that the deferred contributions can be taxed to pay for jobless benefits makes us uncomfortable on a number of levels.

But one of the arguments Reid has made is that using pension smoothing as a revenue-raising tactic was supported by Republicans when it was used to help close a funding gap for transportation projects a couple of years ago. Will Republicans turn tail and say “no” to a revenue raiser they said “yes” to in the past, after they have insisted the Democrats come up with a way to offset the cost of these jobless benefits?

The important thing is to make it clear to every member of the Senate that this stalemate on jobless benefits cannot go on one more week. There are big-picture consequences: a report this week from the Democratic Policy and Communications Center says state economies have lost $1.8 billion and counting as a result of the lost benefits. But consider the individuals who are losing their homes because they cannot pay their mortgage or rent, the mothers who are lining up at food pantries to feed their children and themselves, the people whose job search has been made even harder because they don’t have money coming in to pay for transportation to a job interview.

Make a call to one of your senators. Tell them to end this travesty; restore long-term jobless benefits now, then do the serious work that must be done to bring the nation to full employment.

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