Senators have reached a bipartisan deal to extend unemployment benefits, over two months after Congress let the program lapse after Christmas. The Republican Senators who have now agreed to co-sponsor it: Rob Portman, Lisa Murkowski, Mark Kirk, Susan Collins, and Dean Heller. That should make it filibuster proof.
The key thing in the deal is that it will be retroactive, which suggests pressure on Republicans brought to bear by highlighting constituents who had lost their lifeline worked. Portman and Kirk, in particular, are both up for reelection in 2016 in Ohio and Illinois, respectively, and will face diverse presidential year electorates; for that reason, they were said to be sweating the issue.
Here are the key details on the deal, as per a Senate Democratic leadership aide:
* Reauthorizes emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for 5 months and allows for retroactive payments to eligible beneficiaries going back to December 28th.
* The proposal is fully paid-for using a combination of offsets that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill (MAP-21), which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024. The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
* Legislation includes a provision that ends federal unemployment insurance payments to any individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was $1 million or more.
* Also includes language to strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and ReEmployment Services (RES) programs. In an effort to help get job seekers back into the workforce, individuals receiving emergency unemployment compensation will be eligible for enhanced, personalized assessments and referrals to reemployment services when they begin their 27th week of UI (Tier I) and 55th week of UI (Tier III).
This is really good news, and let’s hope it passes. It probably won’t; it will probably die in the House.
But in raw political terms, that means UI as a key issue is back. Now the Senate will vote on it, and Senate Republicans will be challenged to vote against it. Senate candidates on both sides will be asked by the press to take a position on it. Presuming it passes the Senate, which it should (any Dem defections are unlikely), the House GOP will have to decide whether to kill it — by not allowing a vote on it or by voting it down. House Republicans will now have to confront the issue.
With vulnerable Democrats in red states looking to make the 2014 elections about which party has a real agenda to boost economic mobility, combat inequality, and help alleviate poverty — as opposed to All Obamacare All The Time — this may well help draw the contrast.