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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 ReedBiden officials testify that white supremacists are greatest domestic security threat Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal Overnight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech MORE (D-R.I.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerOn The Trail: Democrats plan to hammer Trump on Social Security, Medicare Lobbying World Democrats spend big to put Senate in play 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 Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting Senate votes to repeal OCC 'true lender' rule Top female GOP senator compares Cheney ousting to 'cancel culture' MORE (R-Maine), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanHouse conservatives take aim at Schumer-led bipartisan China bill Strengthen CBP regulations to reduce opioid deaths House panel advances bipartisan retirement savings bill MORE (R-Ohio), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Bottom line MORE (R-Alaska), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission  Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate panel deadlocks in vote on sweeping elections bill Senate descends into hours-long fight over elections bill Senate poised for all-day brawl over sweeping elections bill MORE (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats offer bill to scrap tax break for investment managers Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' Sherrod Brown calls Rand Paul 'kind of a lunatic' for not wearing mask MORE (D-Ohio) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Biden's internal polling touts public support for immigration reform The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Cheney poised to be ousted; Biden to host big meeting 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 Andrew BoehnerWhat's a party caucus chair worth? Biden's relationship with top House Republican is frosty Maher chides Democrats: We 'suck the fun out of everything' 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.