Lawmakers have reached a “tentative” deal extending jobless benefits – reportedly through the end of the year – that is free of many of the worst Republican proposals. The deal involves, however, capping at 73 the number of weeks for which jobless workers can collect benefits, a sharp drop from the current 99.
In addition to shortening the maximum length of time workers may collect, the GOP also has won some still unspecified cuts in the pensions for newly hired federal workers. They had insisted, through yesterday, on cuts in the pension benefits of all federal workers as a means for paying for the unemployment benefits.
“Cuts to the retirement pay for federal workers are simply wrong headed,” declared John Gage, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Speaking to reporters in the nation’s capital yesterday, he said that two successive pay freezes have already cost federal workers some $60 billion.
“Here we have workers being asked to pay for something that they didn’t cause or have any part in,” Gage said. “Yet the tax on millionaires, elimination of tax subsidies to big businesses – none of this comes into play to pay for this Unemployment Insurance extension.”
Republican success in cutting the total number of weeks that workers can collect benefits and the party’s success in getting at least some federal workers to pay for the jobless benefits with cuts in their pensions follows failure of an ongoing effort on the GOP’s part to impose even harsher and more punitive requirements on the unemployed.
Until earlier this week they were insisting that unemployed people pay the full cost of reemployment services, that they sign up for a high school degree or lose benefits, that they undergo drug testing and that there be a 40-week cut in all benefits.
Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., and Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the two chief negotiators of the deal met reporters at Midnight Thursday to announce they had reached agreement on what Baucus called “a very good deal for the country.”
Worrying some observers about the possibility of more roadblocks, neither Baucus or Camp would say, however, whether Congress would make the agreement a done deal by the end of this week. Both had said earlier that this would be the case.
Summaries of the bill were not distributed to the press, which is the normal practice when major deals are made.
Even though Republicans have apparently held onto some of their fervent wishes in the “compromise,” it is clear that they were under heavy public pressure. They did not want to come under criticism again the way they did last December, when they came across as being callous toward the jobless and opposed to the popular Obama payroll tax cuts for 160 million workers.
The agreement also reportedly avoids the more than 25 percent cut in federal reimbursement benefits the GOP wanted to impose on Medicare physicians.
Another part of the deal that the GOP insisted upon and has apparently won, however, is agreement that the government will sell parts of the broadcast spectrum to wireless companies. The spectrum auction, Republicans say, would raise $15 billion to help offset the cost of the package.
Republicans also inserted into the final compromise a measure that bars welfare recipients from using their electronic cards to withdraw cash from teller machines in liquor stores, strip clubs and casinos.
In exchange for dropping their insistence on a Medicare reimbursement rate cut the GOP won cuts in funds that the Affordable Care Act sets aside for programs that prevent obesity and smoking and they won some unspecified reductions in Medicaid payments to hospitals that treat large numbers of uninsured patients.
A Republican demand aimed at the undocumented, requiring people to have Social Security numbers before they can get income tax reimbursements form the IRS, was dropped from the final bill.