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Reid promises to put new unemployment benefits extension deal to a Senate vote

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Both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV and Senator Dean Heller, R-NV are discussing putting a new unemployment benefits bill to a Senate vote in the near future according a Thursday, June 5, 2014 report from Congressional Quarterly's Roll Call. The good news appears that a new bill to extend Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program might again be put to a vote in the Senate this summer. The 2.9 million long-term jobless Americans that lost benefits over five months ago on Dec. 28, 2013 have been disappointed at the least and devastated at the worst since the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act of 2014, technically expired on May 31, 2014, and the House of Representative did not put it to a vote before they went on a recess until June 9.

The bill co-author and sponsored by Senators Jack Reed, D-RI and Heller would have provided retroactively benefits for five months from the time of expiration on Dec. 28, 2013 until June 1, 2014 and was completely paid for. The bill however, faced stiff opposition from Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH who remains insistent that any unemployment benefits bill put to a House vote must include job creations measures approved by the White House and President Barack Obama.

The president has chosen not to phone and personally urge Boehner to put the bill to a House vote or provide the list the speaker wanted. Instead, Obama has sent his White House Press Secretary Jay Carney and Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to respond to Boehner's repeated requests. In a letter Perez sent Boehner on Wednesday, May 7, 2014 he suggested a number a Democratic job creation priorities, only adding the unemployment extension to a job training bill appeals to Republicans.

Heller and Reed would have liked to have added the extension to the Senate's jobs training bill "the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (PL 105-220)," but the sponsors already refused to add it as an amendment. Some House Republican supported adding the extension to the House passed jobs training bill, HR 803 the "Supporting Knowledge and Investing in Lifelong Skills (SKILLS) Act" sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., but that never amounted to anything.

As the Senate returned from their own two week recess on Thursday, June 5, Senate Majority Leader Reid addressed the unemployment benefits extension and promised that he would put a new bill to a vote as soon as there is a deal made. Reid commended Senator Heller, expressing; "My colleague from Nevada, Dean Heller, has been stellar on this. He has talked about it at least once a week. What he is doing is scrambling to get few more Republicans." The majority leader's comment shows that Heller might be close to making a deal and is only looking for more Republican co-sponsors and support for the revised bill.

Senate Majority Leader Reid's promise to put the bill as soon as a deal is reached to a vote runs contrary to the media reports the unemployment benefits extension is no longer a priority to Congress in this midterm election year. Reid stated that; "Of course anytime that Sen. Heller makes any progress on this we'll bring it back because people are just as [in need of aid] as they were two months ago." The deal for the bill that just expired was first reached in the middle of March and then passed the Senate on Monday, April 7, 2014, before moving to the House where it languished in committee for two months.

Senators Reed and Heller are planning to "return to the drawing board" and have already started to write a new unemployment benefits bill that would appeal to Republicans and Democrats in both houses. Senators Heller and Reed jointly spoke to the press on Wednesday, June 4 about their plans for a new bill. Reed stated that majority of the long-term jobless are older workers; "We're finding a lot of people who are mid-career, have worked for 20 or 30 years, and are just finding it very, very hard to get back in. And these benefits are vital for them."

The new bill aims to incorporate most of Speaker of the House Boehner's demands. The proposed $2 billion a week bill will be paid for by revenue. The new bill aims at a year extension will also not be retroactive, because Boehner considered the original bill "unworkable." The speaker had reservations about the states implementing retroactive benefits, believing they have not kept up verified the long-term jobless' eligibility, despite assurances from Secretary of Labor Perez implementation remained a road block. Heller explained it would be more or less impossible to make the new bill retroactive; "That's hard to do at this point. It will probably be prospective. I'm guessing that we just go forward at this point. Five months of [retroactive] UI at this point, is a big, big bite of the apple. So that's not guaranteed, but I'm telling you that we realize that we are in a bind right now trying to make it retroactive."

As for the job creation element so essential to speaker Boehner, Heller expressed that it is impossible for the Senate to add job creation elements, saying; "If I could, I would." Instead if and when the bill reaches the House, they can add the job creation measure of their choosing, and the House and Senate could go to conference to resolve any disparities between the two bills.

Sen. Reed is upset that Speaker Boehner did not put their original bill to a House vote, being so particular, when they just passed a business tax cuts extenders bill that was not paid for with revenue. Reed told the press "[I] found it ironic that the House could pass an unfunded tax-extenders bill, and yet demand that our bill-you know, wasn't sufficient even though it was paid for and bipartisan."

Senator Heller told the press on Thursday, June 5 that he and Sen. Reed are still looking for the most appropriate legislation to add the unemployment benefits extension as an amendment in addition to creating a new stand alone bill. Heller explained in his update; "Our staffs are talking, we continue to try to find legislation that we can attach something prospectively to." Senators Reed and Heller are considering a number of other options to extending benefits, the easiest adding the bill as an amendment to a popular bipartisan bill that Republicans in the Senate and the House usually support and vote for.

Among the candidates are the business tax extenders bill "S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014" and the Highway Trust Fund bill "S.2322: MAP-21 Reauthorization Act," both which have always been renewed. Sen. Reed has already proposed adding a one year benefits extension as an amendment to the tax extenders bill. The Highway Trust Fund bill however, seems the best candidate since it had to be renewed before the August recess, and maintains bipartisan support.

Heller and Reed still intend to have a bill passed before the August recess and the start of the midterm election campaign period. Although they have not completely committed to a timeline, Reed explained; "We're working on it. It's not something we're ignoring. … We have to look for a legislative path. We have to find the right sort of formula, literally and figuratively. And then we have to make sure that we have the necessary bipartisan support here."

Some of the bill's other Senate Republican co-sponsors are worried however, that as time goes further away from the program's expiration and closer to the midterm elections, the probability of passing the bill lowers. The House can still pass the EUC Extension Act of 2014 after they return from their recess, but it remains unlikely. Now that any potential new deal or bill has Senate Majority Leader Reid's support increases the chances that the unemployment benefits extension bill will be put to a new Senate vote.

RELATED LINKS

  • S.2260 - EXPIRE Act of 2014, Sen. Wyden, Ron [D-OR] (Introduced 04/28/2014), 05/07/2014 Motion to proceed to consideration of measure made in Senate. S. Rept. 113-154

Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.

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