Senate strikes deal on jobless aid

Senate strikes deal on jobless aid
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The Senate reached a bipartisan deal on Thursday that would renew federal unemployment benefits for five months. 

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The plan put together by Sens. Jack ReedJack ReedTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it Intel chief quiet on whether Trump asked him to deny Russia evidence Dem senators push for probe of Sessions over Comey firing MORE (D-R.I.) and Dean HellerDean HellerNew CBO score triggers backlash Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' Five takeaways from the CBO healthcare score MORE (R-Nev.) would provide retroactive benefits to people who lost federal help after the program expired on Dec. 28.

“There are a lot of good people looking for work and I am pleased we’re finally able to reach a strong, bipartisan consensus to get them some help,” Reed said. 

The bill is cosponsored by a broad swath of lawmakers from both parties, including Sens. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenate takes lead on Trump’s infrastructure proposal Navy leaders defend Trump's lackluster ship budget Overnight Healthcare: CBO fallout | GOP senators distance themselves from House bill | Trump budget chief blasts score | Schumer says House bill belongs 'in the trash' MORE (R-Maine), Rob PortmanRob PortmanSenate panel could pass new Russia sanctions this summer Time to fix our national parks GOP senators bristle at Trump's Medicaid cuts MORE (R-Ohio), Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Finance: Dems introduce minimum wage bill | Sanders clashes with Trump budget chief | Border tax proposal at death's door Overnight Energy: Trump energy nominees face Congress | OPEC to extend production cuts Senators air grievances on Trump energy budget, delays MORE (R-Alaska), Mark KirkMark KirkTaking the easy layup: Why brain cancer patients depend on it The Mideast-focused Senate letter we need to see The way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump MORE (R-Ill.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyRussia probes in limbo after special prosecutor announcement Special counsel appointment gets bipartisan praise Lawmakers unveil bill to combat Sessions' push for tougher sentences MORE (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownAuthor of Hillbilly Elegy encouraged to run for senate: report Overnight Finance: Trump moves to begin NAFTA talks | Dems press Treasury chief on taxes, Dodd-Frank | Biz leaders want tax changes to be permanent Mnuchin mum as Dems press for answers on tax reform, Dodd-Frank MORE (D-Ohio) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinTop House, Senate Dems ask Interior not to eliminate national monuments Dem senators accuse Trump of purposefully holding back information The GOP must fight against the Durbin amendment's price controls MORE (D-Ill.).

The bill will likely see floor action later this month, after the Senate returns from a one-week recess. Reed and Heller expressed confidence that they can garner enough votes to break a filibuster in the Senate and pass the measure.

The deal combines ideas from Republican and Democratic proposals.

It would use several offsets to pay for the $10 billion cost of extending the benefits, including pension smoothing provisions from the 2012 highway bill, which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024.

The bill also includes an additional offset allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).

The measure would also prevent millionaires and billionaires from receiving the federal benefits.

The proposal also includes language pushed by Collins to strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and re-employment services (RES) programs, which provide help to unemployed workers when they enter their 27th week of benefits. 

So far this year, senators have tried and failed to renew the program, which was put into place in June 2008 and had been extended nearly a dozen times since then.

More than 1.3 million people lost their federal unemployment benefits in December after Congress failed to reach a deal. Democrats say the number of people losing the aid has risen to around 2 million since then.

The emergency federal program kicks in once workers who continue looking for a new job have exhausted benefits, usually after 26 weeks.

President Obama and House Democrats have been applying pressure on the Senate to hammer out an agreement. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney hailed the Senate agreement.

“This is not just the right thing to do for these Americans looking for work, it’s the right thing to do for our economy. The president urges the Senate to pass the bill and for the House to do the same so that he can sign it into law.”

Even if the bill gets through the Senate, it faces hurdles in the House. 

Still, Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerLobbying World Jordan won't run for Oversight gavel Oklahoma rep. launches long-shot bid for Oversight chair MORE (R-Ohio) has said he would consider an unemployment bill that was fully paid for and included reforms to the program. 

Democrats had offered up a six-month proposal last week that called for using a large portion of the farm law’s savings to cover its $12 billion price tag. That option was unpopular among Republicans. 

The Senate deal also doesn’t include a Portman-led effort to end duplicate payments of Social Security disability and jobless benefits checks, which would have provided between $1 billion and $3 billion in savings. 

“I am so glad that both Democrats and Republicans have come together on a proposal that will finally give Americans certainty about their unemployment benefits,” Heller said. 

“This deal extends these important benefits for five months, pays for them, and brings buy-in from both sides of the aisle.”

Advocates pushing for a renewal have argued that another round of the program is warranted because the long-term unemployed comprise about 37 percent of all the jobless. 

The emergency program was first authorized in 2008 when the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and has been reauthorized or expanded 11 times — most recently more than a year ago as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal.

The benefits have been gradually curtailed as part of the past two extensions, so the program still only serves about one-third of the long-term unemployed.

During the height of the recession, unemployed workers could earn upward of 99 weeks of benefits.

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sander Levin (D-Mich.) called the Senate agreement “a major step forward for millions of job-seeking Americans.”

“I urge Republicans in the House to follow this bipartisan path to assist the unemployed,” he said. 

“The need is urgent, as is our responsibility to act.”

— This story was last updated at 7:28 p.m.