Democrats continue push for renewal of jobless benefits

Congressional Democrats urged Republicans on Friday to hold votes next week to restore a federal unemployment benefits program that helps the long-term jobless. 

House Democrats called on the Republican majority to take up a bill on Monday when lawmakers return to Washington after a week's break. 

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Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) urged Republican leaders to hold an immediate vote on a bill, arguing that the program's expiration, which has affected more than 1 million people, should get a vote.

Democrats have been pushing full throttle on the issue since it became clear last month that Congress would not be able to muster the votes to continue the program beyond its Dec. 28 expiration.

Then Senate failed to reach a deal last week before leaving for its break.

But Democrats leading the charge say efforts continue to reach an agreement.

Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.), co-sponsor of a bipartisan Senate bill, said talks have continued with Republicans over the week-long recess to forge a deal that can get enough support to pass. 

"We have to move with a sense of urgency, the time to act is now," he said. 

But Reed said, while lawmakers are making progress, they are "still searching for the appropriate legislative response."

He has been talking with bill co-sponsor Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Rob Portman (Ohio) about the best way forward. 

The aim for Democrats is to get a bill that would keep the benefits going for as long as possible this year and would include an agreeable spending offset. 

"At this point we're trading ideas but don't have a solution," he said. 'But we're working awfully hard to get one."

Reed said Democrats realize the difficulty of trying to pass a measure that isn't paid for, so they are trying to address the biggest GOP concerns — paying for the bill and doing it without using tax revenues. 

A three-month bill would cost about $6.4 billion and around $26 billion for the year. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to consider another bill next week. 

Some economists say that, with unemployment rates still high throughout the country, the program is needed now but would eventually run its course this year amid the improving economy. 

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said Friday that Republicans left town for Christmas and last week knowing that 1.3 million would be left without jobless benefits. 

"Congress must act immediately to extend unemployment insurance," he said in a statement.

"Doing so won’t just help families keep food on the table and a roof over their heads, it will also help promote economic growth. Republicans’ refusal to act in the best interest of all Americans on this issue is simply unconscionable."

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has continued to push her members to highlight Republican intransigency in events across their districts.

"Every week Republicans keep up their shortsighted and immoral refusal to extend emergency unemployment insurance, another 72,000 Americans lose the lifeline they depend on to support their families as they search for work," she said.

Democrats say that since the Dec. 28 expiration, more than 1.6 million workers have been cut off from the benefits, which set in after state-level benefits are exhausted.

"Now, thanks to Republicans’ callous disregard for the challenges facing these families, these Americans have been cut off from unemployment insurance and pushed into the cold when they can least afford it," Pelosi said. 

She said House Democrats have tried three times to at least hold votes on restoring the program.  

"It is long past time for Republicans to drop their obstruction and work with Democrats to renew UI without further delay," she said.

Most opinion polls have backed the Democratic push.

A poll earlier this week showed that 69 percent of people asked back unemployment insurance for at least a year.