Democrats have paid for unemployment benefits before, why won’t they do it again?

Mike Riggs Contributor
Font Size:

Here’s the narrative being peddled by Republicans as they weather an assault by Senate and House Democrats over their refusal to sign on to an unfunded extension of unemployment benefits:

For Democrats to offset unemployment benefits with stimulus dollars would undermine their claim that the stimulus will continue to create and save jobs. It’s to Democrats’ advantage, then, for the party that controls both houses of Congress to let 2.1 million people go without their unemployment benefits in order to cast Republicans as heartless monsters.

But is it true?

According to a Politifact analysis from July 1, Senate Republicans indeed agreed to pass emergency unemployment benefits. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed “adjusting Medicaid payments, trimming stimulus-funded food stamps in 2014, cutting $600 million in stimulus-supported programs to expand broadband Internet access and eliminating a provision letting qualified residents receive their earned-income tax credit throughout the year instead at the end of the tax filing season.”

“Democrats have had four chances to extend benefits, which they’ve rejected,” a senior GOP Senate aide told The Daily Caller. “We’ve offered to extend the benefits, offset by stimulus money. Their argument was, ‘You can’t use stimulus money as an offset because we don’t think stimulus money should be used as an offset.’”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a “stick in the mud” when it comes to the question of offsets, the aide claims, and Senate Majority Harry Reid has followed her lead. Though her office has denied it, Pelosi rejected a March deal brokered by Reid and McConnell to pay for a one- or two-week extension of benefits, according to Senate aides in both Republican and Democratic leadership offices.

Two weeks would have fallen short of the November extension that Democrats are pushing for, but it would have provided more money to unemployed Americans while Congress continued to debate the best way to proceed, the GOP Senate aide said.

And it wouldn’t have been the first time that Democrats had offset emergency unemployment benefits, contrary to a March statement from Reid’s office claiming that “rarely, if ever, do we pay for extensions of unemployment insurance benefits.” Both the House and Senate passed the Worker, Homeownership, and Business Assistance Act of 2009 with zero “no” votes in the Senate and only 12 in the House, due in part to the fact that the $2.4 billion bill was offset by a $2.6 billion federal unemployment surtax [PDF].

The GOP Senate aide told The Daily Caller that the four attempts by Senate Republicans to pass unemployment benefits with a stimulus offset came on June 14th, June 17th, June 24th and June 30th. But Democrats have continued to hammer them for obstructing the bill.

“Democrats have run into nothing but a solid wall of Republican opposition at every turn, even for common-sense measures like providing a safety net for Americans while they look for work, cutting taxes for small businesses and closing loopholes for CEOs that ship jobs overseas,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley on Thursday.
When asked if Republican messaging had failed to keep up, the GOP Senate aide said, “I guess it’s been out there a little bit, but Democrats have been flacking it harder on their side. Probably because they have a majority in both houses of Congress, they hold the White House, and they can’t get this done.”