POLITICS: PennAve

Unemployment benefits extension clears Senate but faces challenges in House

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Politics,Congress,Senate,House of Representatives,John Boehner,Entitlements,PennAve,Sean Lengell,Unemployment

The Senate on Monday evening passed legislation to temporarily extend long-term unemployment benefits that expired late last year, though the bill faces a rocky path in the House.

The upper chamber approved the measure 59-38, with six Republicans siding with Democrats to support the measure, which calls for extending emergency jobless benefits for five months. No Democrats voted against it.

Immediately after the vote, Democrats put pressure on House GOP leaders to quickly act on the measure.

"While I’m pleased that the Senate has reached a deal, this extension has already been delayed for far too long," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "Those who are struggling to get back in the workforce can’t afford for the House of Representatives to sit on their hands."

Since Congress failed to reauthorize the long-term unemployment package by a Dec. 28 deadline, officials say as many as 2.7 million Americans who have been out of jobs longer than 26 weeks have lost their benefits. The measure would retroactively restore those benefits, about $256 per week through May at a cost of $9.6 billion.

Congressional Democrats and the White House have been pressing to extend the benefits since Congress began its current session in early January. The measure -- along with a push to increase the federal minimum wage -- are central to the party's 2014 legislative agenda designed to help Americans down on their luck.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., finally was able to push the measure forward when Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., brokered a compromise last month.

Many Senate Republicans rejected the proposal because they said it failed to adequate reform the unemployment insurance system.

"I support helping those truly in need, but the unemployment insurance benefits program needs to be reformed to ensure that it works better and is connecting those who are unemployed with available jobs," said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.

Coats also complained that Reid blocked amendments to the bill.

The proposal is paid-for using a combination of offsets that include a budgetary accounting trick called "pension smoothing," extending customs user fees through 2024 and changing the way some pension plans pay into the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

But House action is highly uncertain, as controlling Republicans have insisted any bill include provisions designed to help create more private-sector jobs — a move Democrats don't support.

"Senate Democratic leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "The American people are still asking, 'where are the jobs?' and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses."

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats have "bent over backwards" to accommodate Republicans while negotiating the bill.

"If our bill was put up for a vote in the House, there is no question it would pass," said Schumer, the Senate's No. 3 Democrat. "Contrary to right-wing talking points, many of the people who would benefit from this bill are out of work through no fault of their own."

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