- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

After the last effort stalled in the House, senators are again trying to pass an extension to long-term unemployment insurance to help more than 3 million people struggling without the benefits.

The latest plan from Sens. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, would pay out benefits for five months beginning the date the bill is signed, not retroactive to when UI expired at the end of 2013. While it’s not ideal for those who have already lost out on six months of insurance, Mr. Heller said the prospective payments are better than nothing.

“In the environment we have here today, we wouldn’t be able to pass retroactive unemployment extension,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

The plan is expected to cost $10 billion over the five months, paid for by extending customs user fees and pension smoothing, which critics have said is a gimmick.

Mr. Heller said he spoke with the newly elected Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, who echoed Speaker John A. Boehner’s sentiments over the past few months: that job creation measures will need to be attached to the benefits extension to pass the House.

Mr. Heller also said he thinks a phone call from the president would “go a long way” to creating action on the bill in the House, saying that Obama “needs to be more engaged.”

When asked if Senate leadership had promised them time for a vote in a schedule jam packed with Democrats’ fair-shot initiative, Mr. Reed said the issue is important to Majority Leader Harry Reid, who made time for “extensive debate” on the bill a few months ago. While he said senators will do everything they can to pass the bill, Mr. Reed said it would be easier to secure a vote if the House showed some intent to move the bill forward.

“If we saw some real interest on the House side, certainly he would respond,” he said.

After months GOP-lead filibustering, the Senate finally passed a five-month extension to unemployment benefits in April with the support of six GOP members. The retroactive extension, however, expired June 1 without any action from the House.

The latest bill would provide five months of benefits from the date of enactment to prevent another situation where a bill would expire due to inaction.