Such legislation used to pass almost automatically. In recent years, conservative Republicans have demanded spending reductions elsewhere to pay for the aid.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., was sympathetic. But, he said, “it is also our responsibility during these tight budget times to make sure that the victims of this storm are getting the most of every single recovery dollar, and to ensure that disaster funds are timed and targeted in the most efficient and appropriate manner. “
What used to be automatic – providing additional aid to the long-term unemployed – has become a struggle.
Some jobless workers can get up to 73 weeks of benefits in harder-hit states, but the maximum will be capped at six months at the end of the year unless Congress acts. The National Employment Law Project, which researches unemployment trends, estimates that 2 million people could be affected.
Many Republicans insist that any extension be paid for, while Democrats argue that the nation is in an economic emergency and aid shouldn’t be subject to such rigid rules.
They also argue that more aid is an economic stimulus. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees, saying the additional demand would help the economy grow about two-tenths of a percentage point.
WHO’S TO BLAME?
Experts find that the Senate and House share responsibility for the gridlock.
“Individually, each house has been productive,” Senate Historian Donald Ritchie said. Each chamber has passed its version of solutions to major problems, but the final product stalls because the Senate and House can’t compromise on a single bill.
Most House members were elected in 2010, in an election in which the conservative tea party movement helped elect dozens of new Republicans and give the party control of the House.
Across the Capitol, though, about two-thirds of the Senate was elected in 2006 and 2008, big years for Democrats, and that party has retained its majority.
“The Senate has come together in a bipartisan way on a lot of legislation,” Ritchie said, citing this month’s 98-0 vote to pass a defense bill. “But in the House, the majority party doesn’t have to do anything that includes the minority party.”