Another push to extend jobless benefits

The Washington PostFebruary 2, 2014 

Republicans may soon be challenged to vote again on extending the unemployment benefits program for the more than 1 million Americans whose assistance was cut off after Christmas – and this time, the extension would be paid for.

Senate Democrats are eying a proposal for a three-month extension of unemployment insurance to be paid for by a provision that Republicans previously supported, a Democratic aide told me. The funding would come from extending “pension smoothing” provisions in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, a transportation-funding bill that comfortably passed both houses in 2012 and raised revenue through pension revisions. The extension would make payments retroactive to late December.

Talks have started between Democratic leaders and Republicans, the aide said, though its unclear how advanced discussions are. The general goal, the aide said, is to offer a funding scheme that Republicans have previously backed. “Will they take yes for an answer or will they try to hide behind procedural arguments because they just don’t want to allow any progress to help job seekers?” the aide asked.

Beyond this, the broader goal is to pass the three-month extension to create space for negotiations over a longer extension, along the lines of the one Democrats sought to extend the unemployment insurance benefits program into November. That would have been paid for through an extension of mandatory sequester cuts, and no Republicans aside from Sen. Dean Heller, Nev., supported it, with some claiming procedural objections.

All this seems hopeless, but it comes as the State of the Union speech has renewed attention to the long-term unemployed.

President Obama’s announcement that he has secured a pledge from some of the nation’s largest employers not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed in hiring decisions is a creative response to a severe problem: Being out of work for a long time takes a toll on people and becomes a serious impediment to finding work again.

The solution Obama rolled out is an example of the sort of executive action he is resorting to in the face of implacable Republican opposition. Generally, this new unilateral approach is getting pilloried by Republicans who claim it will make bipartisan compromise harder.

If there is a vote on another effort to extend unemployment benefits – which Republicans are likely to oppose, even if it is paid for – it would illustrate with still more clarity why this unilateral approach may be the only recourse left.

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