April 07, 2014, 06:21 pm
Senate votes to reinstate jobless benefits
By Ramsey Cox, Vicki Needham and Russell Berman
The Senate approved a five-month extension of federal unemployment benefits on Monday in a 59-38 vote that saw six Republicans break ranks and vote in favor of the legislation.
The bill now goes to the House, where Senior House Republicans have felt little pressure to act on jobless benefits. Although they won’t say so directly, they are likely to ignore the Senate bill.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has suggested the retroactive plan would be difficult to implement, and he said its lack of job-creation measures means it has fallen short of the requirements he set in December for considering an extension of long-term unemployment insurance.
Senate Democrats are hoping their passage of the bill will raise the pressure on Boehner.
“If our bill was put up for a vote in the House, there is no question it would pass,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said ahead of Monday’s vote. “The House needs to extend unemployment benefits to millions of Americans right now, without attaching extraneous issues that are merely an attempt to score political points.”
Six Republicans helped Democrats clear Senate hurdles on the legislation.
Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) voted for the unemployment insurance (UI) extension.
After the vote, a spokesman for Boehner reiterated his opposition.
“As the Speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs – but, last week, Senate Democratic leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “The American people are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses.”
Yet there are a handful of House Republicans, mainly from the Northeast, who do want the party to act, and upon passage of the Senate measure they released a letter to their leadership calling for a vote in the House.
“As many Americans continue to struggle without benefits, we respectfully request that the House immediately consider this bill or a similar measure to restore unemployment benefits to struggling Americans,” wrote the lawmakers, who were led by Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.). Other signatories on the letter were Reps. Peter King (N.Y.), Jon Runyan (N.J.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Chris Gibson (N.Y.), Michael Grimm (N.Y.) and Joe Heck (Nev.).
The White House said Monday that none of the current job-creation proposals being floated by House Republican leaders had a chance of passing in the Senate. A senior administration official said that while the White House was willing to have a conversation about changes to the bill, the White House would not participate in hostage negotiations on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline or changes to ObamaCare.
The unemployment extension co-sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Heller and would provide retroactive benefits to more than 2 million people who lost their federal unemployment benefits after the program expired on Dec. 28.
Senate Republicans blocked three previous attempts to extend the benefits, but this time, the legislation had five Republican co-sponsors, making passage certain.
The Senate measure would use several offsets to pay for the nearly $10 billion cost of the measure, including pension smoothing provisions from the 2012 highway bill, which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024.
The Senate deal also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC).
The measure would prevent millionaires and billionaires from receiving the federal benefits.
The proposal also includes language to strengthen re-employment and eligibility assessment and re-employment services programs, which provide help to unemployed workers, when they enter their 27th week of benefits.
But many Republicans still opposed the bill because they weren’t able to add “job-creating” amendments such as legislation to repeal parts of ObamaCare, approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, enforce the E-verify system and stop Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
The emergency federal program kicks in once workers who have continued looking for a new job exhaust their state-level benefits, usually after 26 weeks.