Time to End Long-Term Unemployment Benefits

Published January 9, 2014

The U.S. Senate this week voted to proceed to legislation that would extend long-term unemployment benefits for another three months, at a cost of $6.4 billion to taxpayers.

Supplying the votes necessary to help Senate Democrats get to the 60 vote threshold needed were six Senate Republicans: Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Susan Collins (Maine), Bob Portman (Ohio), Dean Heller (Nev.), and Dan Coats (Ind.).

The vote came on the same day President Barack Obama gave a major policy speech on the legislation, in which he joked about the bill’s prospects, “The Senate is a complicated place. So just because they agreed on this vote, all they’ve agreed to so far is that we’re actually going to be able to have a vote on it.”

He’s actually right. The legislation itself has not yet passed in full, and will still be subject to another cloture motion — again requiring 60 votes — before it proceeds to final passage.

“These six Senate Republicans that voted with Democrats to extend unemployment benefits are doing nothing to lift the economy out of its continued doldrums, and are only feeding the Obama Administration’s class warfare agenda,” noted Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens in a statement.

Merely ‘Treating Symptoms’

Mehrens added, “Instead of treating the symptoms, it is time to begin undoing the policies that are really holding the economy back and preventing people from finding work,” citing “an excess of regulations via the EPA’s carbon endangerment finding, new industry takeovers via Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and a diversion of investment resources away from the private sector to government bonds by running such high deficits.”

Fortunately, with another cloture vote coming up, there is still a chance the bill could be defeated.

Outward appearances suggest that these senators may not feel too comfortable with the latest vote they cast, prompting them to issue statements afterward explaining their actions.

For example, Sen. Coats said, “If Majority Leader Reid once again obstructs senators from offering amendments, I will oppose final passage of this bill.”

Sen. Ayotte offered an amendment that would deny child tax credits to illegal immigrants to pay for the extension.

Sen. Portman seemingly spoke against the very bill he voted to proceed to: “Not paying for the extension adds to the nation’s historic debt, causing more uncertainty for the economy and making it harder to create jobs.” He too proposed an amendment.

Of course, it could all be window dressing. If these six senators once again vote to close off debate, it’s as good as done no matter how they vote on final passage.

Of course, how an unemployment extension is paid for, or if it is even paid for, is not the same question as whether it should even be extended, a question Republicans do not really appear to be asking.

Gone From Unemployment to Welfare

Perhaps it is time to reduce the length of time for receiving benefits from up to 73 weeks down to the traditional 26 weeks. At one point the benefits were extended as high as 99 weeks, or just under two years.

“It has been six years since the financial crisis and the recession that followed, and yet here we are still acting as if it is 2008. In total unemployment benefits have been extended 11 times,” Mehrens said.

Under these circumstances, individuals are collecting far more in benefits than were paid in. That moves it from being simply an insurance program to being an outright welfare program, running deeply in the red.

Raising the question, when is enough, enough?

Of course, that question might be best directed at Kelly Ayotte, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, Bob Portman, Dean Heller, and Dan Coats. It is up to them.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.