Extending Emergency Unemployment: Senate Finally Expected to Vote to Extend Benefits -- and Rush through Corporate Tax Cuts
by Scott Klinger, 4/2/2014
This is the tale of two pieces of legislation, one a bill to extend emergency long-term unemployment benefits for 2.3 million Americans, the other to renew 55 tax breaks, mostly for corporations.
The UI benefits and corporate tax breaks both expired at the end of last year. More than one million people found their unemployment benefits suddenly cut off in the days after Christmas after Congress could not agree on how to find $10 billion to “pay for” these benefits. In the past, when unemployment rates were as high as they are now, Congress passed federal emergency unemployment benefits without debate, treating it an earned benefit to help hard-pressed workers and communities with concentrated joblessness. But this time around, help to people jobless for more than six months got mired in partisan budget debates and the conservative obsession with cutting social programs.
Fifty-five tax breaks, known collectively as the “tax extenders,” expired on New Year’s Eve. If all are renewed, they would cost the U.S. Treasury about $50 billion this year. They include many loopholes and deductions that allow America’s most prosperous corporations to pay little or no taxes. One of these tax breaks, called the “Active Finance Exception” in Washington-speak, allows finance companies to shift some of their profits offshore in order to avoid paying U.S. taxes. It is the primary reason General Electric paid no federal income taxes on the $27 billion in profits it reported between 2008 and 2012. So important is this tax break to GE that it notes in its annual report to shareholders that failure by Congress to renew the policy would adversely impact its earnings.
Another corporate tax break, known inside the Beltway as the "CFC Look-Through Rule," allows firms to move their patents and trademarks to offshore subsidiaries and then to transfer profits earned in the U.S. to those subsidiaries in order to avoid U.S. taxes. It is the reason that Apple was able to shift $30 billion in profits to Ireland, money that was not taxed in the United States or Ireland. Apple is far from alone in using this legal loophole to slash its tax bill. Professor Ed Kleinbard calls this little accounting trick “stateless income” because it does not need to be declared on a tax return anywhere in the world. These two tax breaks alone cost about $8 billion a year.
Tomorrow, the full Senate is expected to vote on extending emergency unemployment benefits. The bill would provide retroactive assistance for those whose benefits were so abruptly cut off after Christmas and extend new benefits until June 1, at which time help to those who are still unemployed will again be suspended. Ten Republican senators joined with the Democrats and agreed to raise some customs fees and allow corporations to delay required contributions to their employees’ pension funds (which could make workers’ pensions a bit less secure, but that’s a story for another blog post) in order to come up with the $10 billion the unemployment extension would cost. The Senate is expected to pass the emergency unemployment extension bill, but it faces a far more uncertain future in the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has indicated his unwillingness to even allow a vote.
Elsewhere in the Senate, on Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee is widely expected to take the first step in renewing the tax extenders bill. Unlike unemployed people who will be lucky if their benefits are extended by two additional months, corporations and others will have their benefits extended to the end of 2015.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) will put forth a bill that extends most, but not all, of the corporate tax breaks, and will not require the $50 billion cost of the corporate tax breaks to be paid for with cuts in other corporate subsidies. The Active Financing Exception (“GE Loophole”) is the second-most expensive corporate tax break Wyden favors. It would cost $10 billion, which interestingly is the same amount the Senate has had such a hard time coming up with to pay for unemployment compensation.
Wyden left the CFC Look-Through out of his proposal, but an amendment is expected to be offered to add it back in; this amendment is widely expected to pass. Wyden also continues a tax break for racehorse owners.
Those who continue to focus most of their attention on the deficit will no doubt use the increase in the deficit caused by unfunded corporate tax breaks to call for more cuts in the array of programs that help struggling families get back on their feet, possibly including unemployment benefits.
America’s corporations delivered another year of record profits last year. The stock market set new records just yesterday. Companies like General Electric, Apple, Google, and many others sailed through the recession. Unlike the millions of American families suffering because of jobs lost during the Great Recession and never regained, they don’t need public assistance to get by and pay their bills.
Congress has its priorities upside down as it rushes to grant tax breaks to corporations that don’t need them while dragging its feet to help millions of Americans who’ve been hanging on by their fingernails through a very long winter.
The following are resources to make sure politicians continue to hear your voice on emergency unemployment compensation (EUC):
- Thank the senators who have fought so hard to extend emergency unemployment benefits by looking up their contact information here. Let them know extending the emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) program still makes a difference, and you are still watching.
- Urge your representative to support the unemployment extension when the issue comes up in the House by entering your zip code here. You’ll be directed to a letter put together by the Half in Ten campaign.
- Call your representative using this number, provided by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME): 877-363-6141.
- Share your story via our web form here, which we will share with representatives and journalists to highlight the urgency of renewing unemployment insurance.
- Join our Google Group to share stories and resources with others who are either unemployed or passionate about the issue.
- Stay in touch with the Center for Effective Government by signing up for our e-mail updates and action alerts here.
- Find links to the Center for Effective Government's recent blog posts on unemployment insurance here.
For Further Reading:
Emergency Unemployment Benefits Are Not Forgotten, The Fine Print blog, Feb. 26, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Ways to Take Action, The Fine Print blog, March 6, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Time to Petition the Government, The Fine Print blog, March 12, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Compromise in the Senate, The Fine Print blog, March 14, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits: Boehner Signals Reluctance in the House, The Fine Printblog, March 21, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits Extension Clears First Hurdle in the Senate, The Fine Printblog, March 28, 2014
Extending Emergency Unemployment: Senate Finally Expected to Vote to Extend Benefits and Rush through Corporate Tax Cuts, The Fine Print blog, April 2, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Benefits Bill Passes the Senate, Increasing Pressure on the House, The Fine Print blog, April 8, 2014
Stories of Americans Cut Off of Emergency Unemployment Compensation, Government Matters, April 22, 2014
Emergency Unemployment Extension Expected to Take Back Seat to Tax Extenders, The Fine Print blog, April 25, 2014