Senate Democrats vow continued push to extend unemployment insurance

Senate Democrats say they will keep pressing to extend long-term jobless insurance in the weeks to come, even if a scheduled Monday vote falls short.

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Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other Democrats say they remain optimistic – if cautiously so – that they’ll be able to pick off five GOP senators to back the three-month extension that hits the floor on Monday.

“It would seem to me that five Republicans in the Senate should agree with Republicans around the country,” Reid said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

But Democrats, who clearly see unemployment insurance – and income inequality in general – as a political winner this election year, say the issue will remain at the forefront, regardless.

“The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class is being squeezed out of existence,” Reid added.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters on a conference call Sunday that if Republicans blocked an unemployment insurance extension, it would “place them far out of the mainstream.”

“We will come back at this issue,” said Schumer, who also repeated his assertion from ABC’s “This Week” that it was “insulting” for Republicans to say that extended jobless insurance acted as a disincentive for people to search for jobs.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) added that unemployment insurance has been a bipartisan issue in the past, including during George W. Bush’s administration.

“This is an issue that’s always had broad, bipartisan support,” Shaheen said on the conference call. “So it’s surprising that there’s not that kind of bipartisan support, or at least it’s not clear there will be, to continue this.”

Long-term jobless insurance expired for more than 1 million people in the U.S. at the end of last year. Senate Democrats, pushing a bill from Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), are seeking to extend benefits for three months, at the cost of roughly $6 billion.

But Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) is the only Republican in the chamber to sign on to the bill, which does not include any offsets. Most GOP lawmakers who have sounded open to extending the insurance, which costs roughly $25 billion a year, want it to be paid for.

In the meantime, Democrats suggested they’re especially targeting GOP senators whose states have high unemployment rates – with Reed singling out Arizona, Georgia and Tennessee, all states that have two Republican senators.

One of those Republicans, Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), suggested Sunday that he wouldn't back the extension scheduled to hit the floor this week.

“I will not vote to bring this legislation to the floor unless senators have an opportunity to debate and vote on the many good ideas for helping unemployed Americans find a job," said Alexander, who has been known to reach across the aisle to work with Democrats.

"Unfortunately, the Senate appears to be starting the new year just like the old one ended, with the Democratic leader bypassing committee consideration and cutting off all amendments and debate on an important issue.”

Democrats added that Republicans will come under more pressure to extend the benefits in the weeks to come, as more and more stories come out about former workers struggling to get by.

“More and more senators, I believe, will hear from those people,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said on the Sunday conference call.