Skip to main content

Why do Republicans oppose unemployment benefits?

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 11:59 AM EST, Fri February 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republicans have once again blocked an extension of unemployment benefits
  • This is the third time the Democrats have attempted to pass a bill on the issue
  • There are 1.7 million workers who have seen their benefits cut off since December 28
  • Most Americans support the program, according to polls

Washington (CNN) -- Republicans have once again blocked an extension of benefits intended to aid the long-term unemployed.

Thursday's vote in the Senate was third time Democrats have attempted unsuccessfully to pass legislation intended to help some 1.7 million people who have had their benefits cut off since the recession-era program expired on December 28.

It has been extended 11 times since 2008 and doing so again is popular with 60% of Americans behind it, according to national polls.

But the Republican-led House has yet to take any action and the majority of GOP members in the Senate don't want it renewed.

Senate takes up unemployment benefits
O'Malley: Extend unemployment benefits
GOP image problem over jobless benefits
Senate takes up unemployment benefits

It doesn't seem like good politics but it is a position Republicans are sticking to.

Why?

The deficit

They commonly point to the deficit.

"The better way to go is to not add to the deficit in an irresponsible way," GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois said. "I obviously have people in my state who would benefit."

Kirk supports an extension, but says he wants it paid for.

In the Senate proposal, which would cost about $6 billion for three months, Democrats offered a way to pay for the program that involved increased employee contribution to pension programs.

"We compromised on how to pay for it. We compromised on the offset that we would use, that is acceptable, I think, to both sides now," Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said.

But Republicans have moved the goal post. Now they have another demand.

They want an increase to military retiree cost-of-living payments, which would add more to the deficit, requiring additional cuts to the federal budget.

"If Senate Democrats allow a vote on my amendment, we'd have a solution that could immediately deliver temporary help to those looking for work, prevent military retirement benefit cuts, and reduce the deficit," New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte said.

2.3 million children have a long-term unemployed parent

Amendments

It's wonky. But it's common parlance in the Senate. Republicans and Democrats are constantly fighting over amendments. In short, the Republicans want to offer them to alter bills but complain that Democrats won't allow them.

Unfortunately, this one is hard to referee because it all comes down to perspective. Democrats say they are offering Republicans plenty of opportunity to amend the unemployment bill and Republicans disagree.

"We said, 'Fine. Let both sides offer amendments -- a whole lot of amendments. Then bring up the bill for a vote.' So throughout this process, we've moved toward our colleagues across the aisle, time and time again," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.

But According to Politico, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said "the unemployment insurance bill has been blocked, again, because we're not allowed amendments."

Unemployment benefits breeds unemployment

The conservative group, Club for Growth, says unemployment benefits simply offer an incentive to remain unemployed.

Opinion: Jobless benefits don't cause unemployment

"The policy is bad," a spokesman for the group, Barney Keller, said.

In December, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said that extended unemployment benefits result in people becoming "part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really - while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help."

Democrats have a bit of a different perspective, believing that people don't chose to be unemployed.

"What (Republicans) want is to know what the 57-year-old woman in Nevada is going to do to stop couch surfing," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Ineffective

Ineffective is another word used in Republican circles.

Alex Brill, scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said unemployment insurance doesn't help workers gain new skills or move to areas with jobs. He said it has "failed to deliver demonstrable results."

"Congress should recognize the inherent ineffectiveness of trying to help people find work through a program that has evolved into a poorly operating welfare program," Brill said in a recent column for Real Clear Markets.

Brooke Hougesen, spokesman for the Senate Republican campaign arm, said unemployment insurance isn't working as millions of frustrated long-term jobless have stopped looking for work.

"Here's the dirty little secret: It isn't working because people aren't finding jobs," Hougesen said. "We need to focus on solutions to end long-term unemployment and focus on jobs - and President Obama and Senate Democrats simply aren't up to the task."

Democrats argue that this is not meant to be a job placement program but a critical safety net.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT