Sen. Jack Reed wants to add a one-year unemployment extension to the Senate's $85 billion tax cut bill, but his amendment is a long-shot to pass the Senate, let alone become law.
The Rhode Island Democrat's proposal would be retroactive to December — so people who have gone without checks for months would be eligible for a sizable lump sum.
"I am committed to helping job seekers," he said in a statement. Reed has led the effort for an unemployment extension. His state has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 8.3 percent. Emergency unemployment benefits expired in December, and since then more than 2.5 million unemployed people have been cut off from their weekly checks.
Republicans filibustered the tax cut bill on Thursday , although Democratic and Republican leaders said they would continue to talk in an effort to agree on which amendments would be allowed to the bill, so there is at least a theoretical chance Reed's amendment could see the light of day.
In the meantime, Reed urged the House to take up the Senate-passed, Reed-Heller bill, which provides for a retroactive extension ending in June.
"The House just needs to do its job and take an up-or-down vote," Reed said. "They are free to attach any measures they wish to the bill. They just need to take a vote so we can work out a bipartisan agreement.
"The clock is ticking and every day that the House fails to act will make it harder to provide emergency help to those who need it most."
That five-month extension was painstakingly negotiated over months after Republicans filibustered an earlier proposal, which failed to advance by a single vote in February.
Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has repeatedly said he will not advance any unemployment extension until the White House makes him a new offer on jobs. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez sent Boehner a letter offering to negotiate, but that letter doesn't appear to have resulted in any action, either.
Sending the House a tax cut bill with a benefits extension added wouldn't necessarily change the dynamic in the House, if Reed were somehow able to attach it. And some expect that tax extenders bill will languish until after the elections when Congress faces a lame-duck session.
That leaves the question of whether President Barack Obama will make the issue a bigger priority and call Boehner personally to ask what can be done to extend the benefits.
Obama has yet to pick up the phone to call Boehner about an unemployment extension. Nor has he threatened to veto a tax cut extension bill that does not include an unemployment extension.
The $85 billion Senate bill includes more than 50 tax breaks that expired at the end of last year. It would add to the deficit because the it is not offset with spending cuts or tax hikes.
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