Republicans Offer Their Own Unemployment-Insurance Plan

The five-month extension could endanger a separate Democratic bill.

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 11: A protester holds a sign during a demonstration against unemployment benefit cuts on July 11, 2012 in Oakland, California. Dozens of protesters with the group Union of Unemployed Workers staged a demonstration to protest cuts in unemployment benefits.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
March 6, 2014, 2:41 p.m.

Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans re­leased their own le­gis­la­tion to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits Thursday even­ing, un­der­cut­ting a sep­ar­ate ef­fort offered by Sen. Jack Reed that has the sup­port of Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship.

The Re­pub­lic­an plan would ex­tend the be­ne­fits, which kick in after an in­di­vidu­al has been un­em­ployed for at least 26 weeks, for five months in­clud­ing ret­ro­act­ive be­ne­fits. If passed im­me­di­ately by both cham­bers, the new be­ne­fits would ex­pire again for all be­ne­fi­ciar­ies in late May while Con­gress works to find a longer-term solu­tion. In oth­er words, those who hit the 26-week quota be­fore the ex­ten­sion is made law would get far less than five months of be­ne­fits.

Sig­ni­fic­antly, the pro­pos­al would re­quire be­ne­fi­ciar­ies to ac­cept any of­fer of “suit­able work” or any po­s­i­tion re­com­men­ded to them by a state em­ploy­ment agency.

The new pro­pos­al is co­sponsored by the very Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­ors that Demo­crats have been lob­by­ing to sup­port their own bill, po­ten­tially put­ting Reed’s six-month ex­ten­sion on ice. They are Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Port­man of Ohio, Dan Coats of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Kelly Ayotte of New Hamp­shire, and Mark Kirk of Illinois. Heller, in par­tic­u­lar, has been work­ing with Reed and oth­er Sen­ate Demo­crats for months to re­in­state the be­ne­fits.

A Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide with know­ledge of the talks ex­pressed frus­tra­tion Wed­nes­day that Port­man was not ne­go­ti­at­ing “in good faith” and had be­gun pulling Re­pub­lic­an sup­port­ers away from the Demo­crat­ic solu­tion to­ward a pro­pos­al of his own.

“Since the be­gin­ning of the de­bate, I’ve stood ready to work in a bi­par­tis­an man­ner for a solu­tion for the long-term un­em­ployed,” Port­man said in a state­ment ac­com­pa­ny­ing the text of the bill. “I’m hope­ful my col­leagues on both sides will get be­hind this pro­pos­al so we can start work­ing on real, per­man­ent solu­tions for the Amer­ic­an people.”

Murkowski, who has voted in fa­vor of pre­vi­ous at­tempts to re­store the be­ne­fits, took an even harder line. She has been strongly crit­ic­al of Reed’s new plan, which would pay for the ex­ten­sion us­ing sav­ings from the farm bill, which Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve will nev­er ma­ter­i­al­ize.

“If the Sen­ate does not and will not al­low this bill to come up for a vote — in­stead push­ing a party-line meas­ure paid for by budget gim­micks — it should be clear that they are more in­ter­ested in cable TV talk­ing points than help­ing Amer­ic­ans in need,” she said.

The Re­pub­lic­an plan would pay for the five-month ex­ten­sion by ex­tend­ing cus­toms user fees through 2024, pre­vent­ing be­ne­fi­ciar­ies from also re­ceiv­ing So­cial Se­cur­ity dis­ab­il­ity in­sur­ance, and ex­tend­ing pen­sion smooth­ing (which would al­low em­ploy­ers to con­trib­ute less to their em­ploy­ees’ pen­sion plans). Not­ably, Re­pub­lic­ans re­jec­ted the lat­ter off­set earli­er in the ne­go­ti­ations.

The bill would also re­form the over­all pro­gram, re­quir­ing state and fed­er­al agen­cies in­volved to identi­fy why an ap­plic­ant is un­em­ployed and “identi­fy steps” that per­son should take “to im­prove em­ploy­ment pro­spects.” It would also pre­vent “mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires” from re­ceiv­ing the be­ne­fits, ac­cord­ing to a re­lease.

Also on Thursday, House Demo­crats made a stronger push for an ex­ten­sion in a let­ter to House Speak­er John Boehner signed by 161 of their mem­bers. The let­ter cites a re­port from the Cen­ter on Budget and Policy Pri­or­it­ies es­tim­at­ing that 200,000 vet­er­ans have now lost their un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits.

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