House, Senate Democrats push for another year of federal jobless benefits

House and Senate Democrats pushed on Wednesday for another year of federal jobless benefits to help the long-term unemployed.

Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) and Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.) took the lead in introducing companion legislation while imploring Republicans to join them in reauthorizing the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program through 2014.

"This is a massive effort in the House and Senate that we hope is bipartisan," Levin told reporters in the Capitol. 

Reed said he would like to see less "obstruction and brinkmanship" on the issue and more "collaboration and cooperation." 

Democratic lawmakers expressed concerns that the long-term unemployed — those out of work for at least six months — are faced, once again, with the possibility of losing their benefits around the holidays. 

They argued that is even more difficult with the reduction of food stamps and other programs that could help the unemployed find jobs.

About 1.3 million of those who are out of work for at least six months would immediately lose their benefits on Dec. 28 if the program is not renewed.

Preferably, Democrats would like to attach the $25 billion reauthorization of the program to any budget deal. 

House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said the issue has been raised with House-Senate budget conferees, but that regardless of what emerges from the conference, a bill needs to be passed before Congress leaves for the year-end holidays. 

"Those conversations are continuing" with budget conferees but Congress can't leave for holidays without "addressing this very important" issue," Van Hollen said. 

Levin, who said Democrats are continuing to reach out to Republicans, argued that the "budget conference is the best chance of getting it done" even with the poor prospects for the conferees to piece together a plan by their Dec. 13 deadline. 

Still, there was no indication from Democrats on Wednesday that they have or can sway enough Republican supporters to push through another round of federal benefits as the jobless rate remains stuck at 7.3 percent nationally and is higher in some states.

Congressional Republicans have highlighted the five-year length and the more than $252 billion cost of providing benefits, so far, with little economic benefit.

House and Senate budget leaders have not scheduled any additional public meetings before heading out of town next week for the Thanksgiving holidays. 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) said that besides the conversations with budget conferees, of which she is a part, the Senate Finance Committee is also discussing the issue. 

She suggested that any UI measure be tacked onto "whatever vehicle is moving between now and the end of the year." 

There are other avenues — with bipartisan support it could stand alone, or could be attached to another "doc fix" that also is needed by year's end. 

The White House said last week that it is backing a yearlong extension and is willing to work with Congress about the possibility of finding offsets to cover the cost. 

But supporters of the renewal continue have long argued that offsetting the cost with spending cuts elsewhere negates the economic stimulus of providing the weekly checks to more than 1 million workers. 

The EUC program was first authorized in 2008 when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and has been reauthorized or expanded 11 times — most recently on Jan. 2 — when it was extended until the end of the year.

Without the federal benefits, those who are struggling to find work will have only state benefits, which also have been trimmed over the past couple of years. 

Six states now offer fewer than 26 weeks — Florida (19), Georgia (20), Michigan (20), Missouri (20), North Carolina (18) and South Carolina (20). 

North Carolina is the only state where federal benefits aren't available. 

Levin suggested lawmakers put their "heart into this effort." 

"This institution has to step up to the plate."

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