COMMENTARY | The unemployment extensions – Bush tax cuts compromise bill may have hit a “procedural trap” in the House of Representatives, one that could cause a major set-back to the passage of the bill. Democratic leaders pulled the bill from consideration on the floor Thursday because they felt unsure that they had enough votes to approve of a rule the House Rules Committee decided to allow — the amending of the unpopular (among Democrats) estate tax. At present, according to media sources like OpenCongress.org, it is unclear whether the vote on the rule will be presented or if it will be altered in some way. Regardless, the rules of procedure must be agreed upon. At the same time, Republicans have threatened to filibuster any changed bill that is kicked back to the Senate for approval.
Will House Democrats alter the compromise bill and risk a Republican filibuster in the Senate, thereby also risking the passage of the provisions they support and further risking that they not be included or be negatively altered in some way in measures that would come up for a vote in a Republican-controlled House (which begins in January)? Will they call the Senate Republicans’ bluff, hoping that the Republicans fold so they can get their much-wanted two-year Bush tax cuts passed before they expire?
Democrats have been extremely vocal about what they truly think of the compromise bill negotiated by the White House and Senate Republicans (H.R.4853), even going so far as voicing a nearly unanimous non-binding rejection of the measure last week. Succinctly put, they believe President Obama “caved” on the Bush era tax cuts (due to expire at the end of the year) in order to get a longer extension (13 months as opposed to 3) on unemployment benefits extensions (which have already expired) and a few other breaks for lower and middle class income earners. They believe they could have gotten the unemployment extensions without conceding a two-year extension on the Bush tax cuts, especially those targeted for the wealthy. They also disagree with the revamped estate tax that they believe benefits only the wealthy. It is the estate tax which the House Rules Committee decided to allow debate on that has caused the “procedural trap,” where the House puts itself in limbo on legislation until the methods of procedure are agreed upon before an actual vote on a measure can take place.
However, Democrats look for the procedural snag to be overcome and the compromise bill to be passed by the House sometime Thursday. The procedural problem will most likely be overcome without more than a few delays for posturing.
In short, the Democrats are very unlikely to call Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s bluff.
In a statement issued after the Senate passed the compromise bill 81-19, McConnell said, “We now urge the House leadership to bring this bipartisan agreement to a vote without political games or partisan changes designed only to block this bill’s passage in the House. If the House Democratic Leadership decides to make partisan changes, they will ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on January 1st.”
It is doubtful that Democrats are overly concerned with McConnell’s rhetoric, but they are concerned that many of the provisions in the bill, such as the 13 months of unemployment benefits extensions, could be altered, amended, or removed in dealings negotiated with a Congress with a more Republican-heavy constituency. And that Congress will convene in a matter of weeks.
The good news for unemployment benefits extension recipients in all of this is that, at the end of the day, extensions will be approved along with the rest of the bill. Authorization for extensions ended November 30 and unemployment benefits for those still eligible stopped due to lack of funding. It is estimated by the Department of Labor that there are 6.3 million jobless who are considered long-term unemployed (out of work for 27 weeks or more). It is also estimated that as many as 2 million individuals will have fallen from the rolls of the unemployed and will have lost their benefits by year’s end without reauthorization.
Saul Relative holds degrees in History and Secondary Education, and he taught school in West Virginia in the ’80s and Virginia during the ’90s. A student of politics and political movements, he began writing articles covering the political maneuverings of the Bush administration in 2004. Saul turned to writing full-time in 2008, dividing his time between reading and writing about politics and entertainment.