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Senators Reach Agreement on Emergency Unemployment Assistance Extension (Updated)

Adele M. Stan

Senate leaders from both parties arrived at an agreement last week to restore emergency unemployment assistance to the long-term jobless. Even if the Senate votes yes, there's no guarantee it will pass the House.

UPDATE: On March 19, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement effectively declaring dead S. 2148, the Senate bill that would have extended emergency unemployment assistance to the long-term unemployed. Citing a letter to Senate leaders from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies that raised concerns with the implementation of some of the bill’s provisions, Boehner said he was “willing to look at extending emergency unemployment benefits again” if “Washington Democrats” would craft a bill that was more to his liking. Since House Republicans allowed the unemployment assistance to expire in December, Boehner has insisted that any renewal of the emergency assistance to be accompanied by spending cuts in other programs and a guarantee of job growth.

To unemployed Americans who have been without a job for six months or more, the U.S. Senate offered a glimmer of hope last week that the emergency unemployment insurance benefits that ran out three days after Christmas might be restored by the arrival of spring. But just a glimmer.

On Thursday, Senate leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties reached a deal that sets the stage for a vote in the chamber when senators return from a week-long St. Patrick’s Day recess. The deal is expected to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to break a filibuster. But its prospects in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives are less certain.

Crafted by Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV), the $10 billion package would extend the unemployment assistance by five months, retroactive to the December 28 date when they last expired for the long-term unemployed. The New York Times reports that the additional funding would be paid for “by extending certain fees levied by United States Customs and Border Protection as well as by temporarily changing the way private corporations fund their pensions.”

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In a written statement, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), said of the deal, “This bipartisan compromise will help Americans who depend on unemployment insurance to pay the rent while they continue looking for a job. In Nevada alone, 26,000 unemployed workers would see their lifeline restored. I am confident that we will pass this bill in the coming days. More than two million Americans depend on Congress approving this agreement.”

As the mid-term congressional elections approach, some Republicans may be more inclined to support the unemployment assistance extension, given that polls, such as this January survey conducted by Quinnipiac University, shows majority support for renewing the benefits. However, although the poll showed a total of 58 percent in favor of the extension, when broken out along party lines, a majority of Republicans opposed it. And the electorate of a mid-term election typically comprises the most ideological voters in each party.

With many House districts now drawn in a heavily gerrymandered fashion under the control of Republican state legislatures and governing entities, a significant number of congressional members need to heed the demands of their base, rather than the sentiments of the national majority, in order to retain their seats.

Assuming the Senate passes the deal hammered out by Reed and Heller, whether House leaders will endorse the legislation remains to be seen.

After the deal was announced late Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement saying that President Obama was calling on both the House and the Senate to pass the deal into law.

“The President has repeatedly called on Congress to take action on a compromise solution to extend this vital lifeline for millions of hard-working Americans as they look for work and support their families,” Carney wrote. “This is not just the right thing to do for these Americans looking for work, it’s the right thing to do for our economy.”

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