Congress took a small step toward renewing federal unemployment insurance benefits on Thursday with a Senate vote to begin debate on a jobless pay measure.
Ten Republicans joined Democrats in a 65-34 vote on the bill, which would restore benefits for five months and provide retroactive pay for those who qualified for the program when it expired on Dec. 28.
The vote marked a rare bipartisan victory for the Senate, which has been negotiating for months on an agreement to restart the benefits.
“Today, the Senate overcame another hurdle and is one step closer to providing unemployed Americans some much-needed relief,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., a co-author of the legislation. Nevada has an 8.7 percent unemployment rate, one of the highest in the nation.
The chamber will begin debating the bill next week and is likely to garner the 60 votes needed to bring the measure to a final passage vote.
But the legislation will likely stall from there.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he will not take up the legislation, even though its nearly $10 billion cost won't add to the deficit because it is offset with extended U.S. Customs fees and a change to corporate pension-funding requirements.
Boehner said he is against the bill because it doesn’t include provisions that would create jobs. He’s also opposed to the retroactive pay language, which he called “unworkable” based on reports from state officials who said it would be impossible to determine who legitimately qualified.
At the heart of the gridlock is an ongoing debate between Republicans and Democrats over when to stop the federal benefits, which were started nearly five years ago — at the height of the recession — as a way to help those who had run through their approximately 26 weeks of state benefits.
“We are four and a half years into this recovery,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., told the Washington Examiner. “At some point in time that emergency federal help should end. And I think maybe this isn’t a bad time.”
Johnson voted to begin debate on the bill.
Senate Republicans who support the measure said they are hoping it will pressure the House GOP to at least work on a compromise.
“The House might have some really good ideas in terms of how you link longterm unemployment skills training and accessing the jobs that are out there,” said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “Maybe the House can come up with a different approach and I'm very open to that.