Senators debate extension of unemployment benefits


The U.S. Capitol is seen in early morning light in Washington, Dec. 31, 2013. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The Senate on Wednesday haggled over competing proposals to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, with negotiators searching for a compromise that could extend the insurance program for a longer period than currently envisioned.

Republicans, who provided a key bloc of six votes to keep the legislation alive Tuesday, offered several proposals for offsetting budget cuts that would match the more than $6.4 billion it would cost for a three-month extension of the benefits program. Democrats continued to oppose the alternative budget cuts to justify such a short extension, but they opened the door to finding cuts if the extension was longer.

“Let’s try to figure out a way to do it for a year,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said late Wednesday. Reid cited “productive” discussions on the issue with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of the six Republicans who voted to advance the legislation.

Speaking after Reid, Portman laid out his own proposal that would bar people from receiving jobless benefits while also drawing federal disability payments for those who lose work owing to injury on the job. His plan would bring an estimated $5.4 billion in savings, almost enough to match the short-term extension of unemployment benefits. “I’m hopeful we’ll be able to make progress on this,” Portman said.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), also one of the six Republicans, offered another proposal that would rein in fraud among illegal immigrants taking advantage of child tax credits.

In late December, a federal law expired that allowed for emergency extensions of unemployment benefits beyond the usual 26 weeks. This shifted 1.3 million unemployed off the insurance program, and many more will run up against the normal limits and lose benefits throughout the year.

Reid objected to any offsetting savings just for the short-term extension under discussion. “We’re not going to do that; I think that would be wrong,” he said.

Faced with that deadlock, Reid suggested that the negotiations had moved beyond just a discussion of the three-month proposal and that a larger package could be put together. It would cost about $26 billion for a full year’s extension of the emergency unemployment benefits, requiring much larger savings than currently under discussion.

He said the two sides would continue talking late Wednesday night and into Thursday.

Paul Kane covers Congress and politics for the Washington Post.
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