Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says he’s “really upset” that the latest budget agreement doesn’t include money for extending unemployment benefits — and it may be the deal-breaker that keeps him from voting for the spending plan. “There’s over a million people now who cannot find a job, out of work, and right at this time of year their unemployment insurance is being cut off,” Harkin says. “It’s really unconscionable.”
House and Senate negotiators have crafted the budget deal, which sets spending for fiscal year 2014 at just over one-trillion dollars. The House is expected to vote on the legislation today. Harkin, a Democrat, says for the wide-ranging spending measure to exclude extended benefits for the large ranks of the nation’s unemployed, in his words, “really bothers me.”
“The House Republicans refused, they said, to entertain that,” Harkin says. “I don’t know whether they refused or not but we should have insisted as a humanitarian gesture if nothing else.” Earlier this year, Harkin co-sponsored a bill calling for raising the minimum wage almost three-dollars an hour, from the current seven-25 to ten-ten.
Harkin says this unemployment compensation issue is a priority of his and he’ll be carefully evaluating whether he can support the budget agreement. “The fact is, we have never in our history, since we’ve had unemployment insurance compensation, we’ve never cut off people when unemployment has been this high. Unemployment is still officially at 7% but we know it’s closer to 13%.”
The latest jobless figures for Iowa show 4.6-percent of Iowans were unemployed in October. The Congressional budget deal reportedly includes some 63-billion dollars in what’s being called “sequester relief” and 85-billion in total savings. The final tab would be some $23-billion in net deficit reduction.