Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, announced Thursday that he will introduce a 3-month extension to long-term federal unemployment insurance with a Republican co-sponsor and hopes for a procedural vote as soon as Jan. 6.
"This is not a program that people are leaving good jobs or not looking for jobs because they're doing very well. This is just enough to keep people going, in some cases barely enough to keep people going," he said.
Long-term unemployment benefits will expire on Saturday for 1.3 million unemployed Americans. By the middle of next year, 1.9 million more will be affected if benefits aren't extended.
Mr. Reed said he plans to introduce the extension with Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican. The short-term extension is not paid for in other parts of the budget because it's considered an economic emergency, said Rep. Sander Levin, Michigan Democrat. The cost would just be tacked on to the deficit, something Republicans have refused to do in the past.
A 3-month extension will ensure benefits are not cut off for individuals and families in need, while giving lawmakers some time to have conversations about possible changes to the program and ways to pay for a long-term extension, Mr. Reed said.
Some possible places to find money are ending offshore tax breaks and closing tax loopholes, Mr. Reed said, though both are things Republicans refused to consider in the recent budget deal and it's unlikely they would agree to them now.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has said extending long-term unemployment benefits is a priority for him in early 2014.
Democrats balked when a Medicare doctor's fix was included in the bipartisan budget deal, but even a short-term extension to unemployment benefits was left out. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said the exclusion of the extension to unemployment benefits would put the entire deal in jeopardy, though it passed both chambers with no trouble.
Democrats and Republicans have also clashed over whether these emergency benefits need to be paid for in other parts of the budget.
House Speaker John A. Boehner said he would consider a plan to extend the benefits if there was a proposal to pay for them, but Democrats have claimed that because it is emergency insurance, it is more like natural-disaster relief that doesn't need to be paid for.
While some Republicans don't buy the Democratic argument that extending unemployment benefits is just the right thing to do, some could be swayed by their concern with public approval rating in an election year.
"This could politically be a very powerful issue potentially next year," Guy Molyneux, a partner at Hart Research, said Thursday. "There are some pivotal groups whose support helped bring the Republican majority in 2010, but really disagree with where Republicans stand on unemployment insurance issue."
"Any member of Congress also has a pretty clear self-interest politically in [extending it] as well," he added.
The majority of American voters, especially women and seniors, support extending the benefits, while only 34 percent support ending the insurance payments.
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