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Bipartisan Unemployment Extension Deal Reached

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Five Senate Democrats and five Republicans unveiled a deal on extending expired unemployment insurance benefits for five months, which should be enough to overcome a GOP filibuster and get the package out of the Senate later this month.  

The proposal is paid for using a combination of offsets that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill and extending customs user fees through 2024, according to a release.  

The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.  

The group led by Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., also includes Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois. Portman and Kirk had voted to filibuster an unemployment extension in February, with Democrats coming up one vote short. The other Democrats involved are Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois. The plan will allow retroactive payments going back to Dec. 28, when Congress allowed emergency unemployment benefits to expire. And it will prohibit people making more than $1 million from obtaining benefits, among other provisions.  

Collins said she was pleased that the agreement was reached and expects Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to tee it up for votes after next week's recess.  

"I'm pleased we have reached an agreement that will attract a sufficient number of Republican votes to provide a five month extension, retroactively that is fully paid for," she said.  

Reid had earlier expressed optimism for an unemployment deal and hoped the Senate would be able to pass it once they return.  

Here's the full announcement:

U.S. Senators Reach Bipartisan Agreement to Restore Emergency Unemployment Insurance for Five Months New Reed-Heller emergency UI agreement supported by 5 leading Democrats and 5 leading Republicans WASHINGTON, DC – Seeking to boost the economy and provide relief for the more than 2 million job seeking Americans who have lost emergency unemployment insurance coverage since December 28, 2013, a group of 10 U.S. Senators led by Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) today announced an agreement to reauthorize emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for 5 months. The bill is cosponsored by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Dick Durbin (D-IL). The plan will allow for retroactive payments to eligible beneficiaries going back to December 28th. This new legislation seeks to strengthen the U.S. economy while providing vulnerable job seekers and their families with a vital lifeline as they continue to look for work. The proposal is fully paid-for using a combination of offsets that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill (MAP-21), which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024. The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Further, the legislation includes a provision modeled on Senator Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) and Jon Tester’s (D-MT) language that ends unemployment insurance payments to any individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was $1 million or more. According to 2010 income tax data, there were 0.03% of filers that earned over $1 million and received some form of UI at either the state or federal level. This provision received unanimous support in the Senate when it was voted on in 2011. The legislative proposal also includes language championed by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) to strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and ReEmployment Services (RES) programs. In an effort to help get job seekers back into the workforce, individuals receiving emergency unemployment compensation will be eligible for enhanced, personalized assessments and referrals to reemployment services when they begin their 27th week of UI (Tier I) and 55th week of UI (Tier III). “There are a lot of good people looking for work and I am pleased we’re finally able to reach a strong, bipartisan consensus to get them some help. 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. It has now been 75 days since UI expired and it needs to be renewed. We’re not at the finish line yet, but this is a bipartisan breakthrough. I am grateful to Senator Heller for his leadership and for my many colleagues on both sides of the aisle who worked constructively to find a way forward. I join Rhode Islanders and millions of people across the country in calling on Congress to pass this essential, common sense legislation without further delay and take additional action to help save and create jobs,” said Senator Jack Reed, noting that about 8,000 Rhode Islanders have lost their UI coverage since the benefits were cutoff on December 28th and more than $20 million worth of unemployment checks have gone undistributed in Rhode Island as a result of UI’s expiration. “These past few months have been extremely difficult for thousands of Nevadans who have been unsure of how to pay the bills or feed their families. I am so glad that both Democrats and Republicans have come together on a proposal that will finally give Americans certainty about their unemployment benefits. This deal extends these important benefits for five months, pays for them, and brings buy-in from both sides of the aisle. I am grateful to Senator Reed and to Senators Collins, Portman, Murkowski and Kirk for the determination and hard work involved in order to reach this point,” said Senator Dean Heller. As many as 21,000 Nevadans have lost their unemployment insurance benefits since they were cut off in December. Now that the bill has been introduced, it must pass a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster. Reed and Heller expressed confidence that they would have more than enough votes to advance the measure in the U.S. Senate. -end-