Senate votes to start debate on unemployment insurance extension


The Senate voted 60-37 today to begin debate on a bipartisan bill to extend federal emergency unemployment insurance benefits for three months.

Six Republicans – Dean Heller of Nevada, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio – voted with Democrats to clear the way for the Senate to proceed with S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, which is co-sponsored by Heller and Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island).

By invoking cloture, the Senate can limit the time spent on debating the bill and avoid a filibuster.

The Reed-Heller bill would extend the emergency unemployment compensation through March 31st at a cost of $6.5 billion.

“Today, I think we’ve given a bit of hope to millions of Americans who are struggling in a difficult economy to find jobs, who are struggling to provide sustenance to their families, to pay their heating bills, put some gas in the car, and to keep looking for work,” said Reed.

The federal emergency UI benefits expired on Dec. 29th, affecting about 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for more than 6 months. Federal benefits will be cut off for another 1.9 million unemployed Americans by June absent an extension by Congress.

“People have already been cut off. People are right now, today, who maybe got as little as $150 a week, or maybe an average of $300 a week, but this was their lifeline. This was their basic support,” said Gene Sperling. Director of the White House National Economic Council.

Democrats are urging Republicans to pass the three-month extension as soon as possible without any “offsets” – or additional budget cuts to “pay” for the additional spending. However, Senate Democrats have indicated a willingness to negotiate offsets on a year-long extension.

“I would prefer to pass this 90-day extension [without offset] so that we could assure millions of Americans that they’re going to get their benefits without disruption. My preference is…because we also want to grow jobs as well as take care of the unemployed. And typically this is a mercy spending, which is not offset,” said Reed. “Clearly we want to get this done quickly – this 90-day extension. For a year-long extension, if [Republicans] have thoughtful ways to deal with it…we’re certainly going to listen.”

Reed pointed out that Congress approved a 1-year extension of unemployment benefits without any offsets as recently as early 2013. Sperling noted that Republicans never insisted on offsets when they repeatedly extended federal UI benefits during the Bush administration when the unemployment rate was lower than 7%.

“Fourteen of the last 17 times in 20 years that it’s been extended, there’s been no strings attached. All five times – all five times that the previous President Bush extended unemployment benefits, there was no pay-for strings attached and the unemployment rate was lower each of those five times than it is today,” said Sperling.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said going forward Congress has three choices on this matter:

“Best choice – pass it, no strings attached, get it done, get it done quickly.

“Second best choice – finding a reasonable pay-for that can work on both sides of the aisle. I would caution people that’s a lot easier said than done.

“Worst choice – you just have competing pay-fore that no one can pay for and we don’t get this done. It hurts our economy; it hurts workers.”

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