News Column

Congress Scrambles on Budget Issues

January 13, 2014

Susan Davis, @DaviSusan, USA TODAY

Congress confronts two critical budget issues this week as lawmakers scramble to finish negotiations on a massive bill that would fund the government through September and another that would reinstate expired benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Senate Democrats failed last week to reinstate unemployment benefits affecting 1.3 million Americans after Republicans scoffed at their proposal to offset the $18 billion cost of a 10-month extension with budget cuts that wouldn't occur until 2024.

A deal appeared close Friday, but Republicans rebelled when Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., used a procedural tactic to block Republicans' amendments. "Sen. Reid will not allow us a single amendment on the unemployment insurance," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday on CNN. "We think we know ways to make it better."

The emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed, which provide on average $300 weekly to recipients, expired Dec. 28.

Friday, the Labor Department said unemployment fell to 6.7%, but the economy added only 74,000 jobs in December. Reid said the sluggish job growth underscored the need to renew benefits for those who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks.

Democrats pushed social media campaigns over the weekend to pressure Republicans to pass the extension. The Democratic grass-roots group Organizing for America -- a spinoff of President Obama's presidential campaigns -- is circulating an online petition calling on House Republicans to pass the bill.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, countered that the latest jobs numbers suggest lawmakers should be focused on legislation to spark job growth. "There are more families living in poverty today than there were before the president took office, and instead of making it easier to find a good-paying job, Washington has been more focused on making it less difficult to live without one," he said.

Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., said on Fox News Sundaythat Congress should look at states such as North Carolina where similar emergency unemployment programs were allowed to expire.

"Last July, North Carolina's emergency unemployment ended ... and since then, they have created 35,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate has gone from 8.9 to 7.4" percent, Southerland said. "Let's learn how we could apply that on a broader scale."

Congress is also hustling to wrap the government's 12 annual spending bills into one $1.012trillion "omnibus" package. That bill would implement the agreement secured by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in December that established top-line spending figures for the next two years.

The House of Representatives is likely to approve today a three-day stop-gap funding bill that would keep the government running until Saturday. The bill, introduced Friday by House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., would give Congress a few extra days to negotiate a full-year spending bill. The current temporary spending bill expires Wednesday.

Lawmakers were confident they could pass the spending bill, which would eliminate the threat of a shutdown through Sept. 30.

Contributing: Paul Singer

Copyright 2014 USA TODAY


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