House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) sought to raise doubts Wednesday about a new bipartisan deal to extend federal unemployment insurance, citing the concerns of state officials responsible for paying out benefits to out-of-work Americans.
A group of 10 senators, evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans, are working to approve a five-month extension of the federal benefits plan for the jobless that would backdate benefits to late December when the program first expired. If enacted by Congress, the benefits would continue through the end of May.
As part of the agreement, the proposed legislation would require more job training for long-term jobless workers in order to continue receiving insurance benefits. And the deal would eliminate state or federal unemployment benefits for laid-off workers whose gross income in the previous year topped $1 million. Just 0.03 percent of all recipients met that threshold, according to federal estimates.
But Boehner has signaled no eagerness to take up the issue, and, on Wednesday, his aides distributed to reporters a letter written by an association representing state officials who distribute unemployment benefits.
The letter from the National Association of Workforce Agencies warns congressional leaders that the new Senate proposal "would cause considerable delays in the implementation of the program and increased administrative issues and costs." The group did not take a formal position on the new agreement, but noted that some states might not agree to make changes enacted as part of the proposed deal because "such changes are not feasible in the short time available."
In a statement, Boehner described the state officials' warning as "cause for serious concern."
"We have always said that we’re willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again, if Washington Democrats can come up with a plan that is fiscally-responsible, and gets to the root of the problem by helping to create more private-sector jobs," Boehner said. "There is no evidence that the bill being rammed through the Senate by Leader Reid meets that test, and according to these state directors, the bill is also simply unworkable. Frankly, a better use of the Senate’s time would be taking up and passing the dozens of House-passed jobs bills still awaiting action."
Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a co-sponsor of the proposed legislation, responded in a statement by saying that the delays were "disappointing":
“Since December, Senator Reed and I have been working to get these vital benefits to the millions of unemployed Americans who need them. It is extremely disappointing that, no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits. I look forward to passing this proposal out of the Senate next week, and stand ready to help the Speaker, as well as any organization or any individual necessary, in order to make this extension a reality.”
Later Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he believed that the bipartisan agreement had resolved concerns like the ones raised by state officials.
"We look forward to Speaker Boehner coming to the table to find solutions," Reid said in a statement. "It is hard to imagine Speaker Boehner simply walking away from the thousands of people in Ohio who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and need this lifeline to make ends meet while they continue to look for work."
A vote on the Senate proposal is expected to occur by late March, according to its sponsors.