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Senate finally reaches bipartisan deal to extend unemployment benefits until May

A bipartisan group of 10 senators reached a deal to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, March 13, 2014
A bipartisan group of 10 senators reached a deal to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, March 13, 2014
Getty/AFP/File, Mark Wilson

The Senate finally agreed on bipartisan deal on Thursday afternoon, March 13, 2014 that would extend unemployment benefits for two million long-term jobless that lost benefits at the end of last year. The deal will extend the benefits retroactively for five months from Dec. 28, 2013 and last until May 2014.

The bill which will cost $10 billion will be covered by revenue acquired as ABC News reports through "pensions smoothing", "extending customs user fees through 2024", and changes to private corporate pension funds. The bill also ensures that those who made a yearly salary above a million dollars will not eligible for unemployment benefits. The bill also includes elements to help get the jobless back to work including "skills assessment and referral programs." Previous disagreements with Republicans regarding extending the benefits usually revolved covering the cost without adding to the deficit.

In addition to Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-NV, who have been leading the charge for an unemployment benefits extension, the bipartisan bill has eight other Senate sponsors. The bipartisan bill has the support of five Republicans; Heller along with "Sens. Susan Collins, R-ME; Rob Portman, R-OH; Lisa Murkowski, R-AK; Mark Kirk, R-IL" Additionally five Democrats, Reed and "Jeff Merkley, D-OR.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sherrod Brown, D-OH; and Dick Durbin, D-IL" support the extension bill.

The bill requires 60 votes to pass the cloture vote, ending the filibuster and a major procedural hurdle. Since the bill has the support of all 55 Democrats in the Senate and five Republicans have committed themselves to the deal, this ensures the 60 necessary votes to pass the Senate.
Sen. Reed released a statement after the deal was made, which said; "Restoring this much needed economic lifeline will help job seekers, boost our economy, and provide a little certainty to families, businesses, and the markets that Congress is capable of coming together to do the right thing. We're not at the finish line yet, but this is a bipartisan breakthrough. While Sen. Heller expressed; "This deal extends these important benefits for five months, pays for them, and brings buy-in from both sides of the aisle."

Republican Sen. Portman also issued a statement; "This agreement is the first step toward reforming a broken program into a safety net that helps the unemployed quickly re-enter the workforce and get back on their feet."

The bill's fate however is not certain since the Republican Congress has not been supportive of extending the benefits. Speaker of the House John Boehner in the beginning January stated he would be open to an extension if it was both paid for and included elements to help put the unemployed back to work, this deal has both elements. Boehner said at the time; "One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work." The speaker has not yet commented on this new deal. Generally Republicans have opposed the extension because they believe it does not motivate the unemployed to find a job as long as they have access to benefits.

CBS News is reporting that the "Democrats are filing a discharge petition" to force Republicans to put an unemployment extension bill to a vote. The petition requires a majority of the House to sign to ensure a vote, so far however, only 100 Democrats have signed the petition.

The last time the Senate voted to extend unemployment benefits was on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 when they failed to advance a revised unemployment benefits extension bill with a vote of 58-40. This would have resulted in a three-month benefits extension. The bill garnered 4 Republican votes, but needed five to pass the cloture vote.

On Dec. 28, 2013 1.3 million Americans lost access to benefits, and each week about 70,000 Americans have lost benefits. The unemployment benefits extension stalled in the Senate on Wednesday, Jan. 15 after it failed with a vote of 55-45, unable move to the next stage since it could not muster the 60 votes needed, including the support of five Republicans.

The Heller-Reed extension bill authored and sponsored by Sens. Dean Heller, R-NV and Jack Reed, D-R.I. first stalled in the Senate after it passed its first protocol vote on Tuesday, Jan. 7 which moved it beyond the cloture stage. The Senate bipartisan plan would have extended unemployment benefits for another three months. Republicans and Democrats could not reach an agreement about the time length and way to pay for the costly extension.

During the 2008 recession when Republican George W. Bush was President the government enlarged the Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) Program to extend unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks that the states give. During the recession the "combined" state and federal benefits gave unemployed Americans 99 weeks of relief. The federal government provides "47 weeks" of extended benefits averaging "$300 a week."

The Senate is going on a recess break for a week on Thursday March 13, but the vote will take place before the end of the month upon their return.

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. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.

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