Congress is back in session and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat, is renewing his call for his colleagues to act on extending federal unemployment benefits. Harkin says the specter of partisanship is bogging down what he calls an “urgent” need. “Last month, Republicans blocked a Democratic bill to extend the program,” Harkin says. “One-point-three million unemployed workers, including 4,300 Iowans, were cut off just three days after Christmas.”
Harkin is blasting the GOP for blocking the three-month extension now until it’s “paid for,” and for pushing for a one-year delay in implementing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act. “These delays are unconscionable,” Harkin says. “One-point-three million unemployed workers have already been cut off and nearly four-million more will be cut off by the end of this year.”
Clear arguments can be made, Harkin says, for why Republicans should be on-board with extending the jobless benefits. “When the extended unemployment insurance program was signed into law in 2008 by Republican President George Bush, the unemployment rate was 5.6% and the average duration of joblessness was 17 weeks,” Harkin says. “Today, the unemployment rate is 7% and the average duration of unemployment is 37 weeks.”
Harkin says funds that are pumped into unemployment benefits aren’t generally put into savings accounts but the money is spent, right away, on the basics. That helps Main Street businesses, he says. The economic reasons are obvious, Harkin says, and so are the human elements. Harkin asks, “Where’s our basic human compassion for Americans whose lives have been devastated by the changing economy?”
The extension would cost an estimated $6.4-billion. There’s strong disagreement between party leaders over whether new spending cuts could make up that difference or whether the cost would simply be added to the deficit. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, released a statement this week saying he would favor extending the benefits as long as the money is found to pay for it. Grassley voted against a procedural vote on the issue Tuesday, saying he had no assurance the measure would be funded.