Top House Democrat criticizes Republicans for risking expiration of federal jobless benefits

"The alternative — a massive hit to the pocketbook of American families as they continue to emerge from the worst recession in decades — would be disastrous,” Levin said. 


Levin's support for the two-month deal comes amid his concerns that some states, including his home state of Michigan, would lose upward of 20 weeks of federal extended benefits under the Senate's short-term bill within the first few months of the year because it doesn't include a provision to ensure they remain in place. 

He had called the short-term extension of unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut "wholly inadequate" and that workers in some of the hardest-hit states — including Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Missouri — will lose benefits because the formula that determines states’ eligibility in part through a “look-back” provision — which compares the latest three-month average unemployment rate in each state with the three-month average from the previous three years — isn't included.

“This is a result of the complete unwillingness of Republicans to ask the very wealthy to sacrifice some of their tax breaks to help get our economy back on a more stable footing," Levin said. 

On Friday, Levin told The Hill that in the overall negotiations for a yearlong bill, drug-testing and GED requirements were off the negotiating table, two components of the House-passed bill.

Advocates for the unemployment insurance extension, including House and Senate Democrats, have conceded that a compromise bill will probably include fewer weeks of federal benefits than the yearlong continuation they want: a maximum of 26 weeks provided by the states and up to 73 weeks of federal help in those states with, usually, double-digit unemployment levels.

Benefits could be cut by as many as 20 weeks next year — in line with a 20-week cut mentioned by President Obama in his jobs bill, supporters have said. 

A House-passed Republican plan called for cutting total benefits to79 weeks in January and eventually drop them to a maximum of 59 weeks. 

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said Monday that House Republicans "can continue standing with the wealthiest 1 percent by taking directions from the most extreme of the Tea Partiers, or they can come to their senses and start standing up for working people and paying attention to the jobs crisis."

"Our economy has yet to fully recover, and millions of Americans are still out of work through no fault of their own, yet the two things House Republicans seem to be most passionate about are protecting millionaires from having to pay taxes and cutting unemployment benefits for the jobless," he said.

While the Senate deal isn't "ideal," Trumka said, "It would give millions of working families some assurance as they head into the holidays that their unemployment benefits will not be cut off in January."

"Speaker Boehner needs to lead his caucus — not the other way around — and that means passing this modest compromise to help millions of families and restore a minimal amount of balance to our economy," he said.

The inability of lawmakers to strike a longer-term deal came down to how to pay for the $190 billon package. 

The entire cost of the backstop legislation is a little less than $30 billion and would be covered entirely by increasing the fees that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge mortgage lenders to guarantee repayments of new mortgage loans, according to aides and lawmakers.

That pay-for idea didn't sit well with the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) as the group urged House members to vote against the Senate-passed bill.

"The idea that you should pass a 10-year tax increase for two months of payroll tax relief is appalling," said MBA's President and Chief Executive David Stevens.

"Fannie and Freddie's guarantee fees are supposed to be used to help offset the risk inherent in providing mortgages and any increases should be used for that purpose," he said. 

"Siphoning off a portion of those fees into the general government coffers may be politically expedient, but it is far from sound policy."

He suggested that policymakers "go back to the drawing board" and "come up with a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to paying for the payroll tax holiday, one that doesn't increase taxes by thousands of dollars on homebuyers, at a time when the housing market is already struggling."