H.R.4213 precariously hangs by a thin thread as Congress prepares to take action today, June 20th, 2010. With the swearing in of Carte Goodwin, Senator Byrd’s temporary replacement, set to take place a mere fifteen minutes before the 2:30 p.m. vote on H.R.4213, H.R.4213 appears to be balanced in the right direction on the steep cliff made up of partisan Democrats and Republicans. In this article, we shall discuss H.R.4213’s probability of success, what havoc its absence have wrecked upon the unemployed, what it promises to do and what has been stricken from it. With this overview, the unemployed millions can be more aware of the imminent changes that are slowly becoming visible in our social horizon.
The congressional standoff over deficit spending has directly affected the viability of H.R.4213. At times, it seemed as if H.R.4213 would become a good intention that would remain a mere intention. At other times H.R.4213 appeared as if it could actually materialize into something tangible. The partisan bickering over H.R.4213 has taken its toll. 2.5 million people have seen their weekly benefits interrupted since June 2nd, 2010. 14.6 million people are unemployed, and 9.2 million of these are collecting some sort of unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Of these, 4.9 million people are on federal extensions. Out of the 9.2 million, 4.3 million people are on their first 26 weeks of state-paid UI benefits and are thus unaffected by the impasse regarding H.R.4213. The average amount of UI stands at $309 per week for those whose benefits have expired. Thus, 2.5 million people have had to withstand the loss of more than $300 from their weekly income, and more than 4 million people will share their pain if H.R.4213 does not become law.
To become law, H.R.4213 requires a minimum of 60 votes. As of now, the Senate consists of 57 Democrats, 41 Republicans and two Independents who usually vote with the Democrats. The likely, or so we hope, voting scenario will go along these lines:
- All of the Democrats with the exception of Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) will vote for H.R.4213.
- The two Independents, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, will vote for H.R.4213.
- Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) will vote for H.R.4213.
If the parties vote as predicted, H.R.4213 will come bursting out of Capitol Hill victorious but extremely emaciated with the minimum required of 60 votes. In an effort to cut down costs, Senate Democrats have wielded their metaphorical scalpels and sliced the fat off of H.R.4213. Currently, H.R.4213 carries a price tag of $118 billion, with all but $30 billion offset by cuts elsewhere, thus adding a mere 0.03% increase to the already overwhelmingly huge deficit.
With so many different versions of H.R.4213 circulating through the internet and the media, it is somewhat confusing attempting to figure out the exact provisions of H.R.4213. It is hard enough understanding the partisan double-talk concerning H.R.4213, and it is nearly impossible to peruse and process the original text of the bill. However, the Senate Committee on Finance does a fine job of translating the bill and its provisions into English that Americans can understand. With regards to UI benefits, H.R.4213 will do the following:
- Extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program through November 2010. This program provides (depending on a State’s unemployment rate) up to fifty-three (53) weeks of extended benefits.
- Extend the Extended Benefits (EB) program through November 2010. This program provides up to an additional 13 to 20 weeks of benefits in certain states (i.e., 13 weeks for states at or above 6.5 percent unemployment and another seven weeks for states at or above 8 percent unemployment).
- Eliminate the penalty for part-time employment in the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The legislation coordinates EUC Benefits with regular Benefits by providing states with a number of options to allow EUC claimants to remain eligible for the EUC program when they become newly entitled to state unemployment compensation if switching to state benefits would reduce their weekly UI check by at least $100 or 25 percent.
In even plainer English, H.R.4213 will extend the filing deadline for EUC (tiers 1-4) until November 2010, will extend the filing deadline for FED-ED until November 2010, and will eliminate the drastic cuts in UI benefits incurred by part-time workers because of their part-time work. The benefits that were lost or stalled since June 2nd, 2010 will be paid retroactively. These three provisions regarding unemployment insurance will carry a cost of $33.9 billion over 10 years.
H.R.4213 also extends the hugely successful and popular Homebuyer Tax Credit. Instead of July 1st, 2010, homebuyers will have until October 1st, 2010 to close on a home and receive a tax credit. This provision is estimated to cost $140 million over ten years.
In order to pacify Republican opposition, Democrats have whittled the bill down to its current state, taking out some provisions that would have been extremely helpful to the unemployed. H.R.4213 will not include the following:
- $25 weekly supplement for the unemployed that had been part of last year’s stimulus act. Those unemployed who are currently receiving the extra $25 in weekly benefits will continue to do so until they exhaust their extended benefits, or until the week of December 7th, 2010, whichever comes first. This cut reduced the bill’s cost by $5.8 billion over the next decade,
- Freeze a 21% cut to Medicare physician reimbursement rates through 2011. This freeze is only in effect through November 2010. This cut reduced the price of the bill by $16.4 billion over the next decade.
- Extend the June 2nd, 2010 expiration date for the COBRA subsidy. COBRA stands for Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act and allowed for us to continue our health insurance coverage provided by our work. Workers who were laid off after May 31st, 2010 will not be eligible for this 15-month subsidy. This cut reduced the price of the bill by $7.799 billion over the next decade.
H.R.4213 has been touted by many as the “Benefits-Extender” bill. However, it includes many provisions that have little or nothing to do with UI benefits. It seems rather impossible for congressional members to simplify the bill process and create one bill for one purpose. When too many unrelated thoughts and ideals are hammered into one bill, ideological battles start brewing, blocking the way for the truly valid points from taking effect. It seems more logical, perhaps in our untainted and nonpolitical minds, to work together to introduce one idea in one bill and to put aside partisan scheming to generate one desired effect. However, perhaps our genius, or our commonsense, is the very reason we are not the ones in Capitol Hill using the livelihood of millions as a mere pawn in our political careers.