Push continues to renew federal jobless benefits

Advocates continued on Wednesday to press for a renewal of federal unemployment benefits a day after the Senate failed to reach a bipartisan agreement to move forward. 

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), who has led the Democratic charge in the House, took to the floor in an effort to dispel myths he argues are holding up the bill's passage. 

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"If we don't act, it is estimated that an additional 3.6 million will lose their benefits by the end of this year. Why hasn’t Congress acted? Partly because of myths," he said. 

He said that nearly 38 percent of the jobless have been out of work for long-term unemployed, twice rate of when the emergency program started in June 2008. 

The highest ever recorded before this recession was 26 percent. 

Levin said that while 1.3 million lost their federal benefits when the program expired at the end of the December, that number is now up to nearly 1.5 million with 70,000 more workers exhausting their state level benefits, about six months worth, each week. 

He continued to argue against paying for the program although it seems certain now that for bill to gain enough support to pass both chambers the legislation must be offset with spending cuts. 

On Tuesday evening, the Senate failed to move either a Democratic proposal that paid for an 11-month extension or an three-month unpaid for version as talks broke down between the two parties.

That means, with the House and Senate set to be out of session next week, the bill isn't likely to come back up for consideration in the upper chamber until, at least, the final week of January. 

Even then, it may prove challenging for lawmakers to get past their differences over the combination of politics, process and substance.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday he gave Republicans what they wanted in the negotiations, a paid for measure that cut the number of weeks of benefits while including a chance to offer up a slate of amendments to the bill. 

He said that indicated that they never had any intention of voting for the legislation, regardless of the substance. 

"Their callous vote proves that Republicans wanted to seem like they supported an extension of unemployment insurance without ever voting for the measure," Reid said Wednesday. 

"The minority hid behind one phony process argument after another as they voted to end a program that has successfully kept millions of Americans, including more than half a million children, out of poverty in recent years.

"This fight is not over. Democrats will not give up on Americans struggling to get back on their feet."

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he didn't think Reid was serious about passing a bill and preferred to use the impasse to boost Democrats election hopes this year. 

“If anybody had any doubts that Washington Democrats wanted to see the unemployment insurance bill fail, well, I think those doubts were erased yesterday," he said Wednesday. 

“It’s just the latest example of Senate Democrats putting politics over policy. And in this case, it’s doubly tragic, because this time, they’re putting politics over struggling families who deserve some certainty from Congress."

Yet, despite the sharp-edged rhetoric, Democrats and Republicans said throughout Tuesday that despite the bitter fight, the issue still has a pulse and they intend to keep working on it.

Bill co-sponsor Jack Reed (D-R.I.) made similar statements on Tuesday, saying he was disappointed by the votes but hopeful for a resolution later this month. 

"We're not giving up," he said. 

A growing group of Republicans expressed similar sentiments. 

"It's not dead yet," said Republican Rob Portman (Ohio) who has taken a lead role in the talks. 

"We just want to sit down like adults and talk about it."

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