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March 20, 2014 10:02 AM Boehner Finds His Excuse on UI

By Ed Kilgore

To no one’s real surprise, House Speaker John Boehner has now rejected the bipartisan bill extending unemployment insurance benefits that is very likely to pass the Senate next week. But his excuse for doing so was pretty interesting, per MSNBC’s Suzy Khimm:

“We have always said that we’re willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again, if Washington Democrats can come up with a plan that is fiscally-responsible, and gets to the root of the problem by helping to create more private-sector jobs. There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by Leader Reid meets that test,” Boehner said in a statement Wednesday.
He cited a letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies that raised concerns about implementing the changes mandated by the Senate’s bill. “According to these state directors, the bill is also simply unworkable,” Boehner said.
NASWA did not take an official position on the bill, but the group raised “significant concerns” about implementing the Senate proposal. In one instance, though, it offered a simpler alternative to make it work.
“The ‘millionaire provision’ would be very hard to administer. The UI system is not means-tested and therefore does not collect information on an individual’s adjusted gross income,” the letter said, referring to the provision that bars the wealthy from getting benefits. “Screening individuals by reported quarterly UI covered wages, rather than income tax information, would be a more feasible approach.”
Senate Democrats said they’d be willing to work with the House GOP to address such matters.

This would all be pretty funny if real people were not affected. I can assure you John Boehner is not deeply invested in the technical concerns of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies when it comes to the details of a politically sensitive major piece of legislation. As Kim indicates, this is the kind of thing that could be worked out quietly in negotiations with the Senate. But “it’s unworkable” is a less controversial excuse for walking away than “half my membership thinks the long-term unemployed are bums who should be kept from further looting.”

So I hope the state workforce agency folks don’t get too full of themselves for their heretofore unimagined power over Boehner.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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