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Extended unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million Americans expired on Dec. 28, and Congress is unlikely to restore those payments swiftly, or at all.
The Senate could try as soon as next week to pass a three-month patch of the program, which would grant payments retroactively. But the short-term bill would not be offset with cuts elsewhere. And even if Democrats can get enough GOP votes to stave off a procedural filibuster — no sure thing — there’s no clear path to garner the Republican support necessary in the House.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he will not take up a bill that does not include commensurate budget savings, even though previous extensions have not been structured this way.
The three-month legislation, championed by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., has one Republican co-sponsor, Dean Heller of Nevada. Reed, reached by phone on Thursday, said he and his allies ramped up conversations, especially at the staff level, as the holiday break waned and the procedural vote scheduled tentatively by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., approached. The Rhode Island Democrat conceded that the window to re-up federal unemployment insurance is small, at least in the few weeks ahead, as Congress also needs to avert another government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
“The timing of the vote is up to Leader Reid because he has a long agenda. We’ve got to get onto the omnibus,” Reed said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to get it done. The reality is this is a problem that affects the nation, in Republican and Democratic states. ... [It] affects a broad number of people and I think my colleagues, when they think about the consequences to their constituents and the fact that this is good for the economy, will realize that.”
According to a report generated last month by the Department of Labor and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, 1.3 million Americans would be affected immediately by Congress’ failure to extend jobless benefits, with another 3.6 million Americans set to lose benefits by the end of 2014. The report also projected that the reduction in job seekers’ incomes would lead to a fall in economic demand, which would cost 240,000 jobs this year.