In maiden speech, Booker calls for unemployment insurance extension

In his maiden floor speech, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) touched on recent Democratic themes, such as minimum wage and economic mobility.

“Intractable poverty is a threat to America,” Booker said Monday. “Wages are stagnant and social mobility in America embarrassingly lags behind more and more of our competitors.”

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Booker said he was optimistic that Congress will act to address these problems facing Americans, but that it could take months or longer.

One of the things Booker said lawmakers should pass first is an extension to unemployment insurance.

“Families that so desperately want to work, who spend their days searching for jobs, sending out resume after resume … who are missing rent payments … this is why unemployment insurance is critical,” Booker said. “It is America answering the call to help people in a problem that is not of their own making.”

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.

“So many people are depending on this body to come together and find a way,” Booker said. “Every week that we delay 70,000 Americans loose their benefits.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate would likely consider an unemployment insurance bill within the next week or two.

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.