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Senate Pushes Ahead on Effort to Extend Unemployment Benefits

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Reed, right, one of the five Republicans and five Democrats who hammered out the deal on extending unemployment insurance benefits over months of talks.

Leadership aides said they would rather Congress focus on legislation they say will create jobs, instead of temporarily propping up those out of work. And Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., made no mention of the issue when he named a list of “must-do” items Friday afternoon.

Under one scenario, the House could add some of their jobs proposals to the Senate measure or something similar. But many House Republicans have said they are opposed to moving any long-term unemployment insurance extension because the unemployment rate has dropped.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., rebutted the GOP, calling Republicans “extreme” for not extending the aid.

Despite the urgency of the issue for Democrats, it won’t be the first order of business. The Senate is expected to first focus on the Ukraine aid package. And Congress also faces an end-of-month deadline to spare doctors from a deep cut in Medicare payments.

Senior Senate Republican aides conceded the bill likely has enough votes to get through the chamber. But they questioned the value of passing an unemployment insurance extension measure that Boehner does not support.

Republicans have complained the Democrats are simply looking for an issue for the midterms, and said Democrats’ unwillingness to respond to Boehner’s concerns only buttresses their point.

A senior Senate Democratic aide dismissed the charge that Democrats are only interested in political gain.

The aide pointed to the inclusion of provisions in the bill that Republicans insisted on in order to win their support, including a language that would end unemployment insurance payments for individual making $1 million or more a year.

Republican proponents pointed out that the entire Senate, including Democrats, supported the millionaires’ language in an April 2011 vote.

Under the agreement, benefits would be extended for five months. The measure would be paid for by a combination offsets including temporarily reducing companies’ pension payments — also known as pension smoothing — extending U.S. Customs and Border Protection user fees through 2024.

In addition to the millionaire provision, the bill also requires individuals receiving emergency unemployment compensation be eligible for enhanced, personalized assessments and referrals to reemployment services after a certain amount of time receiving benefits.

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