Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Devil’s in the Details by Janaye Ingram

Dec 23, 2011

Would you rather ensure that you have $40 more in your paycheck for two months or a year? It’s a question that I’ve heard some people asking while the debate over the payroll tax holiday continued through last week and the earlier part of this week. The “what does $40 mean to you” verbiage was created to help make the argument for why the House needed to get on board with the Senate’s version of the payroll legislation. By now, it’s a moot point. The legislation has been passed by both chambers and is on its way to the President for signage before the holiday. But I’ve talked to some who listened to the various sound bites over the last few weeks and only heard the part where Senate voted for a two month extension while the House passed a year-long extension. So the question of would you rather have $40 more in your paycheck for two months or a year seemed like a no-brainer to them. Most people would say they’d take the year. But that’s only when you take it at face value.

The real reasons that the House legislation was no good were the implications that it had on unemployment, civilian federal workers, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act, along with a few other things. The largest red flag of the House bill, in my opinion, concerned unemployment. As Senator Harry Reid said, the changes were on “the wrong side of ridiculous.” To start, the House bill would have cut the maximum coverage from 99 weeks to 79 weeks coverage. The long-term unemployed who would rely on the extra 5 months of benefits to cover their bills, feed their families, or keep a roof over their heads would have been forced to find ways to keep money coming in even while struggling to find a job. While no one is going to get rich off of unemployment benefits, which average about $300 a week, the extra money will definitely help keep some people off the streets. The second issue regarding unemployment was that it would require beneficiaries without high school diplomas to have or be seeking an equivalent degree. This is hard when many adult education programs already have waiting lists. Adding people to those lists while simultaneously denying them benefits doesn’t help them or society. Finally, I received a call from one of our partners earlier in the week. He was very concerned about “this legislation the House passed” that allowed states to test unemployment beneficiaries for illegal drug use. It was of great concern to him as it was to all of us who were watching the fight to have the two month measure passed.

But alas, Christmas came early for so many who can rest easy through the holiday season and not worry about what their lives will look like come January 1. Though we still have more challenges ahead in getting Congress to agree on anything including a long-term measure on the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits, this was the bill that needed to pass.