99er Unemployment Extension Falters as Lee, Scott Meet with Republicans

COMMENTARY | It would appear that 99ers’ chances for getting some kind of federal aid in the form of an unemployment extension or added weeks to an existing unemployment Tier have hit a stumbling block. According to OpenCongress.org, Democratic House members Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Bobby Scott (D-VA) met with Republican House leaders Thursday, April 14, in an effort to discuss how to better construct a bill that would be acceptable to the majority of legislators. It appears that the meeting did not go as well as many had hoped, and it also appears that the reason centers foremost around how the measure would be financed.

Reporters caught up to Lee and Scott after their meeting with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and asked about the discussions. In a “Crew of 42” video posted to YouTube, Lee and Scott said they tried to impress upon the Republicans the seriousness of the long-term unemployment situation (which they acknowledged that Boehner and Cantor well understood), that there are 5 persons looking for work for every jobs opening. Lee said they wanted to press the point that with regular unemployment so high, Congress had never not passed legislation for the long-term unemployed, and that they had done so under emergency spending provisions.

And that is where the stumble occurred.

Republicans have been in a budget and national debt reducing furor for the past couple years (roughly since the Obama administration took over). When they regained control of the House of Representatives, part of the rules changes was that legislation being introduced that wasn’t already part of the fiscal budget would have to be proposed with spending cuts offsets. This included any legislation proposed for the unemployed, which had traditionally been considered as part of “emergency spending,” which was exempt from offsets or alternative revenue streams with which the measures were to be paid.

But Lee and Scott knew this before they went into the meeting. Why they thought they could convincingly put forth the same old argument that has been offered and rejected by Republicans now for a couple years (even when they didn’t have control of the House) is uncertain, but it seems that that is exactly the tactic they attempted to employ. That is not even mentioning the the 14 weeks is additional to the already existing Tiers of unemployment, categories that are now provided for until December.

It was believed that Lee and Scott would enter the discussions with some — if not all — of a series of spending cuts to the 2011 fiscal budget (or perhaps even the 2012 fiscal budget) with which to pay for the additional 14 weeks of unemployment the bill (HR589 –The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Expansion Act of 2011 ) proposed to add to the first Tier of unemployment benefits. Those 14 weeks of extended benefits would not only make the Tier 1 category longer, it would also provide a retroactive source of income for 99ers who remain unemployed.

The meeting is undoubtedly a disappointment to the long-term unemployed, especially the 99ers and those nearing 99er status. It is also uncertain when — or even if — another meeting will take place.

The meeting resulted when, after Rep. Lee reintroduced HR589 in February, she and her colleagues announced in early March that they would be willing to find spending cuts with which to offset the estimated $16 billion that the extra 14 weeks of unemployment benefits would cost. The following week, Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor agreed to meet with the Democrats. That meeting, which was set for last week, was postponed until Thursday due Speaker Boehner being called away to an emergency budget meeting at the White House to avoid a government shutdown.

Saul Relative holds degrees in History and Secondary Education, and he taught school in West Virginia in the ’80s and Virginia during the ’90s. A student of politics and political movements, he began writing articles covering the political maneuverings of the Bush administration in 2004. Saul turned to writing full-time in 2008, dividing his time between reading and writing about politics and entertainment.