US Fiscal: UI's Doomed Fate

Published on April 4, 2014

The Senate put off a final vote on the bill to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed until debate resumes late Monday next week. That lack of enthusiasm to stay in town on a Friday to pass the bill (Tuesday through Thursday is the Capitol Hill work week these days) is in fact a useful metaphor for the level of political passion behind the deal: barely enough to pass in the Senate after five months of negotiations, and between nil to none in the House.

*** The Senate compromise deal extending unemployment insurance — now attached to HR.3979 as its legislative vehicle — will easily clear the Senate next week since it will now only require a simple majority to pass, but the odds for passage in the House remains extremely low. House Speaker John Boehner’s tepid remarks on the bill when the news of the deal broke two weeks ago were meant to encourage compromise offers from the Senate, such as at least including token pieces of previous House-passed “jobs creation” bills that stalled in the Senate. But that looks unlikely. ***

*** The five month Senate bill backdated to December 28, would in any case expire within weeks even if it were to pass in the House, meaning it would almost immediately require either another vote to extend or be rewritten to extend to a full year, neither of which would clear the Senate again, much less the House. ***

Senate Cloture Vote

The UI bill barely got past a potential Republican filibuster in 61-35 cloture vote earlier this week after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid infuriated the Senate GOP by limiting them to a single amendment. The GOP tried and failed eight times to get their amendments to a vote and tried, without any success, to turn an extension of UI into an abuse of procedure issue by the Senate majority.

To be fair, the GOP was demanding a long list of votes on separate amendments that had absolutely no chance of passing and were instead the usual litany of campaign style demands ranging from blocking carbon emissions rules for coal-fired power plants, tweaking chunks of Obamacare, to implementing the Keystone pipeline. And in any case, the uproar over who gets what on to the Senate’s so-called “amendment tree” is over such an arcane issue that no one beyond a hundred yards of the Hill would understand or care about it.

But it was enough to discourage a more bipartisan tone to the bill, and without further concessions, the Senate brawls over the amendments will almost certainly doom the UI bill in the House. 

Not that it will really matter. Most of the House GOP leadership is quietly hoping Reid doesn’t even make a show of offering concessions. There are at least 70 or more House Republicans who are utterly opposed to a further extension of the bill on purely ideological grounds. So it doesn’t really matter what compromises or concessions are inserted in the final Senate version of the bill.

A handful of moderate House Republicans today did send a letter to Boehner asking that the UI bill be allowed to go the House floor for a vote. These Republicans, however, have little traction with their House Republican colleagues, and their letter was mostly for show back to their districts, which do suffer from high unemployment.

Instead, the bill is likely to be sent to Ways and Means, where its retiring Chairman Dave Camp will either let it die a quiet death or add enough amendments to move it out of the tightly GOP-controlled committee to ensure no Democrats will vote for it if it ever does make it to a House floor vote.

Ryan’s Equally Doomed Budget

We don’t mean to be cynical or mean-spirited about the politics of the Hill this year, but well, we are. Another case in point is the almost time-consuming FY2015 budget resolution drafted by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman and erstwhile presidential candidate.

Ryan’s fifth and final budget as Committee chairman sticks to the previous commitment to balance the federal budget within a campaign-pleasing ten years, with tax cuts to boot. But to do so while sticking to the higher $1.014 trillion discretionary spending for FY2014 that he crafted last December with his Senate counterpart Patty Murray, Ryan had to gut non-defense discretionary spending in the remaining years by some $5 trillion, including the total abolishment of Obamacare. And to still make the numbers work, the bill includes a “macroeconomic fiscal impact” assumption that the cuts will translate into stronger economic growth and an extra $175 billion in revenues.

Almost no one, not even among the House GOP, believes the budget is realistic, which is why few in the House want the budget to actually go to the House floor for a vote. It is instead, after a bluster of headlines later this month, more likely to clear the Budget Committee and then be allowed to also die a quiet death.

One interesting little-observed factor in the Ryan budget is that the “balanced” budget is achieved at 19% of GDP, the first time the budget has been measured in this way. So while slashing spending relative to the current levels of around 22%, Ryan’s budget would still put spending a bit above the average run since 1981 of 18.3%.

For its part, the Senate is not even pretending it needs to pass a budget framework resolution, since the FY2015 discretionary top line spending level was already set in last December’s Bipartisan Budget Act. Meanwhile, the appropriation committees will continue with their work on the 12 discretionary spending bills that will comprise the FY2015 budget, working off the top line caps set by the December two-year budget deal.

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