Senate to take up unemployment insurance again

The Senate is expected to take another stab at passing a three-month unemployment insurance extension as early as next week.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that it was still a Democratic priority and negotiations have continued despite earlier failures in January.

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Democrats tried to pass an unpaid-for-three-months extension, which failed because Republicans said they wanted the $6.5 billion cost offset. Democrats then tried to pass an 11-month extension that was fully paid for by extending sequestration for an additional year, which would generate roughly $25 billion. Republicans balked at that plan as well and demanded an open amendment process.

“The Republicans said they wanted it paid for and we figured out a way to pay for it,” Reid said of the new deal. “We hope we can get five courageous Republicans to step over the line [by voting to end debate].”

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) has been negotiating with GOP Sens. Dean Heller (Nev.) and Rob Portman (Ohio) to find a deal. Reed’s latest proposal is for a three-month extension that is paid for through “pension smoothing” — a pay-for used in the 2012 highway bill. 

Pension smoothing reduces pension expenditures for companies in the short term creating more taxable income, but it’s unclear how long it would take for this accounting procedure to generate the $6.5 billion. Some Republicans have also described the practice as a budget “gimmick” that risks greater liability in the long run.

Nearly 1.3 million people lost their long-term unemployment benefits at the end of December. Unemployment insurance was designed to help those looking for work in states that can’t afford to pay unemployment benefits for more than six months. Democrats have said they plan to use Republican refusal to pass a short-term extension against them in the 2014 mid-term elections.