Reid delays unemployment vote

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday postponed a procedural vote on a three-month extension of federal unemployment benefits.

Democrats will need 60 votes to proceed to the bill, and at least 17 senators weren't present for the vote Monday evening due to the severe cold weather that has delayed flights across the country. The vote is now set for 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

“Because of the timing of this vote, we know what the outcome is. It is transparent that this is a political exercise,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said moments before Reid asked unanimous consent to reschedule the vote.

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Long-term unemployment insurance expired for more than 1 million people at the end of last year. Senate Democrats are pushing a bill from Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) — S. 1845, the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act — that would extend the benefits for three months at a cost of roughly $6 billion.

“It’s the right thing to do for these workers and it’s the smart thing to do for our economy,” Reed said Monday. “This is one of the best fiscal tools we have available to ensure that we are creating demand and additional jobs.”

Heller is the only Republican in the chamber to sign on to the bill. Most GOP lawmakers have said they are open to extending the program, but want the $25 billion yearly cost to be paid for.

“Helping those in need should not be a partisan issue,” Heller said. “We should do something to help those Congress left hanging in December by leaving before passing this important legislation.”

Democrats will likely propose tax increases on the wealthy and corporations to offset the cost, while Republicans would prefer trims to federal spending. The conservative group Club for Growth urged senators Monday to vote against the bill until it is fully paid for with spending cuts.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said he wouldn’t support the legislation because it would increase the federal debt without addressing the true causes of unemployment.

“This is a lot of money,” Sessions said. “An unemployment extension bill is treating the symptoms of the problem. … We need to deal with the cause of it rather than treating the symptoms.”

It’s unclear if both sides will come to an agreement before the Senate is forced to transition to work on a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill aimed at keeping the government open.

At a press conference Sunday, Democratic senators made clear that they intend to make income inequality a key political issue this election year.

“This country cannot afford to allow the gap between the fabulously wealthy and those who are barely getting by to keep growing,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday. “That’s why Democrats will renew our efforts to address poverty and economic disparities in 2014.”

The bill is only a three-month extension. Heller and Reed said that would give lawmakers enough time to come up with a longer-term solution that is paid for.

Unemployment insurance was set up after the 2008 financial collapse to provide federal support to people who could no longer receive state unemployment benefits, which typically expire after six months.

“Failing to extend unemployment insurance won’t just be a hardship for out-of-work Americans,” Reid said. “It will also be a drag on our economy. Allowing this important lifeline to lapse will cost 240,000 jobs.”

— Bernie Becker contributed to this article.

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