Unemployment Extension Deal May Hinge on Job Training Compromise

Posted April 9, 2014 at 4:41pm

A potential agreement on a long-stalled House GOP proposal to streamline federal job training programs is emerging as a possible linchpin for a deal on a five-month extension of expired unemployment benefits.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said an agreement on a House-passed plan to restructure job training programs (HR 803) could be an attractive partner for the Senate-passed extension (HR 3979) of benefits for long-term unemployed workers to attract support from wavering Republicans in coming days.

“That would be a win-win for everybody,” Heller said. “I would be comfortable with that. We will have to see if the leadership will allow that to happen.”

As the chief GOP co-sponsor of the jobless aid measure, Heller has been taking the lead in trying to work out deal to clear the way for House floor action on the Senate bill. Heller said he was trying to set up meetings with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio and other senior Republicans.

Boehner and other GOP leaders have spurned the Senate measure, and called instead for an agreement on Republican priorities such as a proposal (HR 803) sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina to streamline job training programs.

Republicans also have offered other potential add-ons such as extensions of tax cuts like bonus depreciation and repeal of the 2.3 percent excise tax on medical devices.

Heller and his allies say an accord on the Foxx bill could move in tandem with jobless aid — either as an add-on or as separate bill — and help build consensus for a package deal.

Both parties agree that more streamlining and coordination is needed to provide job training to 3.7 million workers that have been without jobs for 27 weeks or longer. And lobbyists say Democrats could face pressure in coming days to give ground on specific job training provisions in order to win Republicans over to a vote.

Senior members of both parties declined to discuss details of talks to resolve differences between the Foxx bill and a Senate proposal (S 1356) for a five-year reauthorization of job training programs under the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220).

The House measure would consolidate about 35 of 47 federal job training programs, and increase the share of seats set aside for businesses on state and local workforce investment boards from a simple majority to two-thirds. The Senate bill would keep programs and boards largely intact, but would consolidate oversight and accountability provisions.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., both said they had resolved nearly all differences and hoped to finish legislation soon after lawmakers return from recess the week of April 28. “The likelihood is that the staff will be able to hammer out what is left while we are gone,” Kline said. “Hopefully, by the time we come back, we’ll have it all put together,” Harkin said.

Kline and Harkin took no formal position on whether the job training measure should be merged with jobless aid.

Senate Democratic aides said party leaders had not decided whether to combine the two items.

“They may not want to combine something that is bipartisan with something that is viewed as partisan,” one aide said.

But Heller said a job training deal would help to reinforce that argument that the Senate-passed jobless aid bill would restructure assistance by requiring long-term unemployment workers to get assessments and referrals to jobs and job training.

David Baime, senior vice president of government for the American Association of Community Colleges, said his group and other job training providers had made the case in recent months for completion of a WIA reauthorization. “We are aching for action on this. Negotiations appear to be very advanced. We are hopeful that they can be concluded soon,” he said.