Reed, Heller make another go at unemployment benefits bill

A bipartisan pair of senators is taking another shot at passing a bill that would provide unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless after their first measure failed to get through Congress.

Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) introduced new legislation on Tuesday that would provide five months of benefits at a cost of $10 billion and restart the emergency program that expired on Dec. 28.

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The measure is similar to the deal brokered by the two lawmakers that passed the Senate passed in April but never attracted the support of House Republican leaders.

"What I was hoping would be a sprint has become a marathon," Heller said Tuesday.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has urged President Obama to press Senate Democratic leaders to take up a slew of House-passed jobs bills as part of a deal to take up a Reed-Heller bill.

A change in House leadership — Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will take over for Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) at the end of July — doesn’t seem to be providing any fresh hope for the Senate's bill.

The Senate-passed measure expired at the end of May, necessitating a revival of the effort that attracted a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the upper chamber to hammer out and endorse a deal. 

While Heller and Reed hail from states hardest hit by the economic downturn, Rhode Island and Nevada have both experienced improvement in their jobless rates since December. 

Since the program expired in December. both have seen jobless rates improve in the past six months although they still remain well above the 6.3 percent nationwide. 

Rhode Island’s rate was the worst in the country in May but dropped to 8.2 percent down from 9.3 percent in December.

Meanwhile, Nevada's rate, which is one slot better than Rhode Island, fell to 7.9 percent last month from 9 in December.

“Restoring unemployment insurance is the decent thing to do, and it is a smart step that will provide some much needed stability and predictability to the long-term unemployed as well as to local businesses and our economy as a whole,” Reed said.  

Heller said that he and Reed have “gone back to the drawing board, and put together a new proposal that I hope both chambers of Congress can debate and vote on.”

“This new bill allows for job-seeking Americans to collect these important benefits moving forward, and pays for them as well."

Similar to the last Senate-passed bill, the proposal uses a combination of offsets that includes extending pension smoothing provisions from the 2012 highway bill (MAP-21), which were set to phase out this year, and extending customs user fees through 2024.

The biggest differences are that the measure doesn't provide retroactive benefits back to December and would last five months once enacted without any specific deadline. The first bill went through May. 

The new the legislation, like the previous Reed-Heller bill, includes a provision that ends unemployment insurance payments to millionaires.

The legislative proposal also includes language to strengthen reemployment and eligibility assessment (REA) and ReEmployment Services (RES) programs.  

In an effort to help get job seekers find work, those receiving emergency unemployment compensation will be eligible for special reemployment services when they begin their 27th and 55th weeks of benefits.

In December, Congress failed to reauthorize the program, which forced 1.3 million Americans to lose access.

Since then, Democrats argue that the number has eclipsed 3.1 million.