Transcript: Press briefing Q&A with Democratic Senators on the bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits for 3 months

Partial transcript of press briefing Q&A with Democratic Senators on S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act. The briefing was held on Jan. 7, 2014:

Question:
Are you accepting the notion that these negotiations will always have an offset that becomes part of the cost?

Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island):
Well, I would prefer to pass this 90-day extension so that we could assure millions of Americans that they’re going to get their benefits without disruption. My preference, frankly, and I think Sen. Schumer said the same thing, 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.

Last year, the beginning of 2013, we passed with overwhelming Republican support a 1-year extension of unemployment benefits that were not paid for.

So this notion of selectively saying, “Well, the key issue is it must be paid for, it must be paid for”, that’s not the case. Most times we haven’t paid for this kinds of [spending].

So I think we’re going to negotiations saying, you know, our preference is clearly we want to get this thing done quickly – this 90-day extension. For a year-long extension, if you have thoughtful ways to deal with it – Sen. Schumer suggested one – there are many others, we’re certainly going to listen.

Again, we understand we have to have another bipartisan effort to get this measure finally passed. But strictly from the economic and strictly from history the vast number of times we’ve done this, in fact, most recently in 2013 – January 2013 – these benefits were unpaid for.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York):
I just want to say this. 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. And again, as I said, I’m worried that we may be being somewhat walked into a cul de sac by our colleagues who don’t have an intention of doing that. I don’t know the answer but that’s a possibility.

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

Question:
[Inaudible] What would be a reasonable pay-for?

Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island):
Sen. Schumer suggested some of these tax provisions that actually not only deprive the government of revenues but also help deploy jobs overseas when we need jobs here. But there are a whole list of…tax loopholes and other things that we can consider.

I don’t want to foreclose the discussions. I think at this point particularly, having secured a very positive bipartisan vote, getting us on to the measure, that we want to go forward at this stage and in good spirit and not include, exclude, et cetera but just simply say, “Look, we’re willing to listen.”

But as Sen. Schumer cautioned, you know, we have to have something that makes sense for the economic, makes sense for the people, and something that we can generally support, and I hope my Republican colleagues would approach it the same way.

Question:
Were you surprised by the result of the vote today?

Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island):
It was in the balance until the very last moment so I was hopeful. But I guess being Irish I’m always expecting the worst. So yeah, I was surprised but that might be more cultural than political.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio):
I think we were all surprised. Not being Irish, I think we were all a bit surprised. But I think that Pope Francis exhorted his parish priests to go out to the flock, and I think that on a vote like this, I think members of the Senate are increasingly hearing from constituents. There were a number of our colleagues who did events during the holidays in the last two weeks and if they were out in public, they were hearing from people’s unemployment benefits expired…It’s almost 50,000 in my state. A large state but not the largest. And it was thousands everywhere in this country. I think that not only is that good news for the unemployment insurance folks, I think that’s good news for minimum wage, good news for manufacturing, for really focusing on job growths, and I think more and more of my colleagues are hearing that.

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