Democratic leaders on Wednesday blasted a GOP bill that could lead to the elimination of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.
The legislation, called the JOBS Act, would provide states the leeway to spend unemployment insurance funds on other things, including tax cuts.
Rep. John Larson (Conn.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said that with unemployment still soaring at 9 percent, the bill represents "an assault" on the millions of Americans who rely on that safety net.
"It doesn't make an awful lot of sense to throw them out in the cold and not have them be able to pay their taxes, buy their food, pay their rent," Larson told reporters in the Capitol. "When we peel away the veneer of what the proposal is — aka 'We're going to reduce the deficit' — really what we find here is an ending of the social compact between the people and their government."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also took a shot at the proposal this week, questioning how the potential erosion of unemployment benefits will create jobs.
"They are referring to one of their bills on unemployment — to end benefits for long-term unemployment, taking away the assistance to 4 million people who are going to run out of unemployment benefits — they are calling that the JOBS Act," Hoyer said Tuesday. "I am very interested to see how eliminating unemployment insurance is going to be a jobs bill."
As part of the December deal to extend the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush, Congress also extended emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed through the end of 2011. The White House said the provision will help an estimated 7 million Americans who otherwise would have lost those benefits over the course of the year.
Under the GOP's JOBS Act, states would be given much more flexibility over how they spend the remaining $31 billion in federal jobless benefits approved in December. Some might continue to make payments to the unemployed; others might use the funds to prevent increases in the unemployment tax; some could start paying off federal unemployment loans; and others could launch wage-subsidy programs to promote new hiring.
“The JOBS Act is about giving states the flexibility to spend current funds better, preventing job-destroying tax hikes and helping unemployed individuals find new jobs," Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), who sponsored the bill, said last week in a statement announcing the legislation. "It doesn’t add to the deficit, and simply lets states use current funds more wisely."
The JOBS Act is slated to be marked up in the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.