- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Six months after federal unemployment benefits expired, a handful of senators geared up Tuesday for another effort to try to get them extended, but the issue appears to be losing traction.

Sens. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, said they’ve given up on making the benefits retroactive to December, when they expired. Their new plan would instead pay out five months of benefits from the date the bill is signed.

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.”

Senators have been trying since December to renew unemployment benefits but have faced resistance from Republicans, who have said the plan must be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere. They also doubted states could handle such a short-term extension, and they said with unemployment dropping, the need isn’t as pressing.

Mr. Reed, though, rejected those assertions.

“All of these excuses — not reasons, but excuses — foiled our plan,” Mr. Reed said. “So we’re beginning again.”

Their first bill passed the Senate, after repeated failures, with six Republicans’ voting for its passage. But it may be difficult to secure their support again.

Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who supported the previous plan, has not yet signed on to the new bill, according to a staff member in his office.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has said he would only entertain a plan that included job-creation measures. Like the last Senate-passed plan, this latest bill doesn’t meet that description, leaving it little chance for a vote in the House.

“The speaker laid out the criteria before Christmas: We will take a look at any plan that is fiscally responsible and does something to help create private-sector jobs,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner.

Chris Edwards, editor of DownsizingGovernment.org, also said newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy won’t want to put an issue on the floor that could divide his caucus.

“The new House majority leader won’t want to alienate any conservatives by putting this on the agenda in the House,” Mr. Edwards said.

The senators’ latest plan is expected to cost $10 billion over five months, paid for by extending customs user fees through 2024 and pension smoothing — which critics have said is a gimmick — through 2021.

Pension smoothing involves employers paying less into their employees’ pension plans, thereby giving them more taxable income. But companies will have to pay more down the road to make up the difference, essentially just shifting money forward.

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