Republican Ayotte votes with Democrats to advance emergency unemployment pay bill
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte was among only six Republicans who crossed party lines and joined Democratic senators Tuesday in voting to advance a measure to extend emergency unemployment benefits by three months.
The benefits expired on Dec. 28, and Gov. Maggie Hassan said Monday that 1,350 Granite Staters were among the 1.3 million Americans affected.
Ayotte joined Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in the majority in the 60-37 Tuesday morning vote to begin debate.
But while doing so, Ayotte expressed concern that the proposal is not paid for with offsetting spending cuts and "would add $6.4 billion to the national debt over the next 10 years."
"I sympathize with Granite Staters who are struggling to find work and I want to see them get back on the job," Ayotte said in a statement.
"While I voted to begin debate on this legislation," she said, "I continue to believe that any temporary extension should be paid for in a responsible manner, and I hope both parties will work together to find a solution."
An Ayotte spokesman said she will not vote for an extension of unemployment benefits "unless it is paid for in a responsible manner."
Ayotte on the Senate floor introduced an amendment to pay for the emergency benefits and recently cut cost-of-living increases for military retiree pensions. She said her measure "makes a ton of sense."
Ayotte said her proposal "would save billions by stopping illegal immigrants from claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit." Filers would be required to provide Social Security numbers in order to qualify for the credit.
She called it an "egregious problem in our tax code," which, she said, has allowed illegal immigrants and "people who are claiming a refundable tax credit for children who should not be entitled to it. Many of these children do not even live in the United States or may not even exist."
She said her claim was based on a Treasury Inspector General's report that identified the problem. Closing the loophole, she said, would save $20 billion over the next 10 years.
"This is fraud. This (amendment) is good government. We should fix this now, regardless," Ayotte said.
The votes to advance the unemployment measure by Ayotte and fellow Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada and Dan Coats of Indiana prompted criticism from the conservative lobby group and advocacy organization Americans for Limited Government.
"These six Senate Republicans that voted with Democrats to extend unemployment benefits are doing nothing to lift the economy out of its continued doldrums, and are only feeding the Obama administration's class warfare agenda," said ALG president Nathan Mehrens.
"Instead of treating the symptoms, it is time to begin undoing the policies that are really holding the economy back and preventing people from finding work," he said. "It has been six years since the financial crisis and the recession that followed, and yet here we are still acting as if it is 2008. In total unemployment benefits have been extended 11 times since 2008."
A Republican former congressional candidate was much harsher on Ayotte.
Michael Hammond of Dunbarton, who ran unsuccessfully for the 2nd District U.S. House seat, in an open letter to Ayotte, wrote that "like a lumbering sloth," she fell into the Democrats' "trap" of using the unemployment issue to "take Obamacare out of the headlines and once again focus the press's target on the GOP."
Hammond, now temporarily working in Washington with Gun Owners of America, wrote, "You cast the deciding vote to allow Harry Reid to 'tree' the unemployment bill, block any Republican amendments and shift the press narrative to favor endangered Democratic senators like Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan and Jeanne Shaheen. Congratulations on that!"
Ayotte responded to the criticisms by saying, “It’s a sad day for democracy when even allowing a bill to be debated becomes a partisan flashpoint.
Shaheen was solidly in support of the extension measure, along with her fellow Democrats.
"Emergency unemployment assistance provides a critical lifeline to New Hampshire families who are struggling to make ends meet while people look for jobs," she said. "A failure to extend these benefits would be bad for jobs and our economy, so I hope we can act in a bipartisan fashion -- just like we did this morning -- as quickly as possible to advance this proposal. We have to extend these benefits on behalf of the families who desperately need this support."
Tuesday's vote, while significant, was preliminary and does not guarantee final passage. And even if it does pass the Senate, the measure faces an uphill battle in the House, despite having the support of New Hampshire Reps. Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, who are in the Democratic minority.
The next hurdle for the bill, which could come later this week, is a vote to end the debate, which will also require 60 votes in the majority.
Following that vote, there will be a vote on final passage, which will require a simple majority.
Gov. Hassan on Monday sent a letter to the congressional leadership calling for quick action to extend unemployment benefits, officially known as the Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which she called a "critical lifeline to thousands of New Hampshire residents."
Hassan said that for each month the EUC program is not available, an additional 500 to 600 New Hampshire citizens will exhaust regular unemployment insurance coverage, "potentially impacting more than 8,500 New Hampshire citizens over the course of 2014 and resulting in a potential loss to the economy of as much as $14 million."
"As we continue to recover from the Great Recession, we must support measures that will encourage economic growth," Hassan said. "Although New Hampshire continues to experience lower unemployment rates than most states, there remains a critical need for the EUC program as our unemployed workers continue their efforts to secure employment throughout 2014. Failure to reinstate the EUC program will undermine our fragile economic recovery."