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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.

Senate Democrats are forging ahead with a bipartisan bill extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits, despite Speaker John A. Boehner slamming it as unworkable.

“It doesn’t change the dynamic,” a senior Senate Democratic aide said of Boehner’s criticism. The Ohio Republican torched the bill on Wednesday, citing a letter from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies that warned the Senate unemployment bill would take most states one to three months to implement and would create new bureaucratic requirements that would be “virtually impossible” to enforce retroactively.

“The only purpose the letter had was to give [Boehner] a fake excuse to oppose the bill,” the aide continued.

Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez also wrote to Senate leaders reassuring them that the bill can be implemented.

“I am confident that there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by NASWA,” Perez wrote.

And the bipartisan nature of the Senate bill sets up a Republican-vs.-Republican dynamic, given that Democrats appear unified on the issue. It pits the likes of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, against Boehner.

An aide to Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich said he hasn’t taken a position on the legislation, but said the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services “agrees with the sentiment in the letter” from the NASWA.

An aide to Sen. Dean Heller, who helped author the measure, said Friday that the Nevada Republican expects the Senate to pass the negotiated proposal in the coming week and hopes the House takes up the measure or passes its own proposal to conference with the Senate. Heller is one of five Republicans and five Democrats who hammered out the deal over months of talks.

“He believes that these several senators worked together diligently to get something that was paid for and could pass the Senate,” the Heller aide said. “He doesn’t see implementing [the bill] retroactively as ideal, but he thinks the issues that were raised are surmountable.”

Heller’s comments were the latest from him and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who have been leading the push for restoring the benefits, which expired in late December. They represent the two states with the highest unemployment rates.

The Democratic aide said Democrats would continue to try and pressure Republicans to act, with more than 2 million people cut off since the extension lapsed.

But there is no enthusiasm among House GOP leaders to act, and the bill is not likely to move quickly, if at all, assuming it passes the Senate.

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