New, Five-Month Unemployment Insurance Bill Will Likely Hit the Senate Next Week

Sens. Heller and Reed get ready to try again. But in the House, nothing’s changed.

Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Dean Heller (R-NV) stand in front of a screen showing an increasing number count to represent the number of Americans losing their unemployment insurance, on April 3, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
June 20, 2014, 1:15 a.m.

Sen­ate ne­go­ti­at­ors are once again go­ing to bat for un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance. Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada — a Re­pub­lic­an who has been work­ing closely with Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Is­land for more than a month to con­struct new le­gis­la­tion — said the an­nounce­ment will likely come next week.

The bill will re­store un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits for five months and will not in­clude ret­ro­act­ive checks for the un­em­ployed who stopped re­ceiv­ing be­ne­fits in Decem­ber, ac­cord­ing to a Sen­ate aide. Oth­er de­tails on the bill are sparse, and Heller in­dic­ated this week that some of them — in­clud­ing how the bill will be paid for — are still be­ing worked out.

More than 3 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans have stopped re­ceiv­ing emer­gency un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits since the pro­gram ex­pired on Dec. 28. The new le­gis­la­tion will not re­im­burse those people, ac­cord­ing to the aide, but would provide checks to those who re­main un­em­ployed and qual­i­fy for the pro­gram for five months after the bill passes.

That is, if it passes.

Back in Decem­ber, Demo­crats in the House pushed to keep the be­ne­fits go­ing, but were blocked by House Re­pub­lic­ans.

That will al­most cer­tainly hap­pen again with the Sen­ate bill, un­less something changes drastic­ally. House Speak­er John Boehner has said re­peatedly that he will not bring up a bill to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance un­less it is paid for and in­cludes a sep­ar­ate jobs pro­vi­sion. That likely hasn’t changed. The Sen­ate in April presen­ted him with the former, but not the lat­ter, and Boehner al­lowed the bill to idle un­til it ex­pired at the end of May.

Heller told Na­tion­al Journ­al two weeks ago that he agreed with Boehner’s po­s­i­tion, but was un­able to get a jobs pack­age in­to the bill. It is un­clear if that has changed in the in­ter­im.

In the Sen­ate, Heller and Reed will need to gath­er five more Re­pub­lic­an votes to pass the bill. Al­though the two con­duc­ted their ne­go­ti­ations one-on-one (and with their staffs), they have be­gun reach­ing out to some of the mem­bers who joined them in passing the bill in April to sign onto the new le­gis­la­tion. They are Re­pub­lic­an Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hamp­shire, Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Port­man of Ohio.

The tim­ing on when the bill will come to the Sen­ate floor is de­pend­ent on the on­go­ing battle over ap­pro­pri­ations. Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski of Mary­land is sup­posed to have the floor for the next three weeks to pass the na­tion’s spend­ing bills through the cham­ber, but a fight over amend­ments could de­rail that, put­ting un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance on the floor as soon as next week.

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