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Washington Week: Focus on Jobless Benefits, US Intelligence

  • Michael Bowman

Whether to restart jobless checks for America’s long-term unemployed will remain the focus of Senate debate this week. Benefits for more than a million people expired in December, coinciding with a dramatic slowing of U.S. job creation.

Unemployment stands at 6.7 percent with more than a million people no longer receiving unemployment compensation.

Protracted aid for the unemployed is counter-productive, according to Republican Senator John Cornyn.

“We need to help people not maintain their dependency on a government program in perpetuity, but to liberate them from that dependency, to help them regain their self-respect and sense of dignity by finding work and providing for themselves and their families,” said Cornyn.

But jobs remain scarce and many Americans still need assistance, said Democratic Senator Edward Markey.

“People who are offered a job will take a job. The jobs are not there. It is not the fault of these families. It is not the fault of these job-seekers. We should not be punishing them,” said Markey.

Democrats initially proposed an emergency three-month extension of jobless benefits. Republicans demanded federal spending cuts to off-set the costs. Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said benefits cannot be extended on borrowed funds.

“The unemployment bill before us today makes no attempt whatsoever to find spending reductions in other areas of this monstrosity of a government, but borrows every penny of it,” said Sessions.

Senate Democrats responded with a plan that does not increase the deficit, but extends jobless benefits for nearly a year. Republicans sought to amend the bill, and complained when majority Democrats blocked them. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called for greater compromise.

“If Democrats truly want to get anything done this year, they are going to have to learn how to work with us,” said McConnell.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed says Republicans are wasting precious time while Americans suffer economic hardship.

“Every week, 70,000 more lose their support. We are going to see this number grow and grow and grow while we talk and talk and talk,” said Reed.

The bill needs the backing of at least five Republicans to advance to a final vote. Late last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid promised debate on some amendments, but accused Republicans of a double-standard on jobless benefits.

“[Former Republican] President [George W.] Bush extended emergency unemployment benefits five times. Not one of these five times was there a whimper from my Republican colleagues that it should be paid for,” said Reid.

The bill would need to pass the Senate and the Republican-led House to become law.

Also this week, President Barack Obama is expected to address recommendations for reforming U.S. surveillance programs exposed by fugitive former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.