Speaking on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth of Kentucky marked the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty by urging Republicans to support an extension of unemployment benefits.
The Senate surprised political observers earlier this week when a bipartisan push moved the measure forward by a 60-37 vote. But senators still disagree over whether the 3-month extension of benefits should be offset with cuts elsewhere.
Yarmuth says helping poor Americans is a “moral imperative” and that unemployment insurance is an important economic tool.
Unemployment benefits expired for about 1.3 million Americans on Dec. 28, and it’s a top priority of Democrats to renew them in 2014.
Republican lawmakers such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky argue the extension must be paid for, however.
The GOP leader is looking to craft a deal that would extend unemployment insurance without adding to the nation’s debt.
McConnell says the Obama administration has failed to offer policies that lift the working-class out of poverty.
“Because it’s only when you believe government is the answer to all your problems that you talk about unemployment insurance instead of job creation, and the minimum wage instead of helping people reach their maximum potential,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “So it’s time to get away from ‘temporary’ government programs, and give the American people the tools they need to drive an economy that truly works for them and their families.
Yarmuth told WFPL in an interview fiscal concerns weren’t important to GOP lawmakers when President George W. Bush created the emergency benefits in 2008. But he acknowledges it is unlikely any measure can get through the Republican-controlled House without them.
“We don’t want to set a precedent that says that whenever there’s an emergency whether it’s a natural disaster or a human disaster as been going on with pronounced unemployment, that you require an offset. Republicans have not required it in the past,” says Yarmuth. “I think we’re taking the position that this is emergency spending that’s not part of the budget cap and it falls under the same category as federal assistance for a natural disaster.”
In Kentucky, approximately 18,000 residents lost their benefits last month. As WFPL previously reported, over 53,000 Kentuckians will be without unemployment insurance by the end of the year if lawmakers do not act.