WASHINGTON – Maryland’s lone Republican in Congress opposes an extension of emergency unemployment insurance unless the plan includes job creation, such as expanded natural gas and oil exploration.
“If we’re going to extend the unemployment benefits we should find a way to pay for it and pay for it now,” said Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville. He suggested reducing future unemployment by creating jobs through the Keystone pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Canada and the northern U.S. to Texas.
The $6.5 billion projected cost of extending unemployment benefits has Harris on the opposite side of the issue from several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation.
When unemployment insurance neared its Dec. 28 expiration, affecting about 23,000 Marylanders, the Senate and House of Representatives failed to pass an extension. This week, the Senate moved closer to a 3-month extension with a 60-37 procedural vote.
It’s not clear if the House will follow suit.
“We want to be compassionate, we want to make certain that people who can’t find employment in an economy that can’t produce jobs have coverage,” Harris said. “But the fact of the matter is that our economy could produce jobs, but we have to do some common sense things like expand the natural gas and oil exploration boom that is in the U.S.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, has been pushing for an extension and has proposed an offset for the cost, which was insisted on by House Speaker John Boehner. The offset, he explained, would call for cuts in agriculture subsidies.
Emergency unemployment insurance, passed at the peak of the recession in 2008 and extended a number of times since, provides Marylanders with about $300 a week.
According to a press release from Rep. John Delaney’s office, 28,500 Marylanders will lose their benefits in the first six months of the year.
In a letter to Boehner in mid-December, he suggested a one-year extension.
“Now is certainly not the time,” Delaney, D-Potomac, wrote, “to further decimate vital federal assistance to workers who have lost their job through no fault of their own and who must actively seek work in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits.”
In a statement from her press office, Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Fort Washington, expressed support for the extension.
“It’s time for House Republicans to stop playing political games and join Democrats in extending unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans, including 22,900 Marylanders,” she said.
An extension is moving through the Senate with bipartisan support, but consideration in the House is at Boehner’s discretion, according to Delaney’s office.