Senate Negotiators Are Optimistic on Unemployment Insurance

A six-month deal could be in the works.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) points to a television displaying a count of the number of people losing unemployment benefits during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol February 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
Feb. 25, 2014, 1:37 p.m.

After an­oth­er day of talks, two of the lead­ing sen­at­ors in­volved in the ne­go­ti­ations to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment-in­sur­ance be­ne­fits ex­pressed op­tim­ism Tues­day about the pos­sib­il­ity of a deal.

That agree­ment, Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said, would likely ex­tend the be­ne­fits for six months, rather than the three months Re­pub­lic­ans ini­tially pushed for. However, the le­gis­la­tion will be ret­ro­act­ive, giv­ing those on un­em­ploy­ment a lump sum for the amount they missed after be­ne­fits ex­pired on Dec. 28 and new checks likely through late June.

Asked when he ex­pects to bring an agree­ment to the floor, Re­id said: “Soon. I had some good con­ver­sa­tions today.”

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who has co­sponsored sev­er­al bills to re­in­state the pro­gram, also soun­ded up­beat on Tues­day. “I think something’s go­ing to hap­pen,” Heller said, though he was less cer­tain about the tim­ing. “I don’t know about this week, but we’re work­ing on it.”

Demo­crats need one more Re­pub­lic­an to join them in vot­ing for the ex­ten­sion, after a pre­vi­ous bill failed to get clo­ture earli­er this month. Cur­rently, mem­bers have their eyes on Sens. Mark Kirk of Illinois, Rob Port­man of Ohio, and Dan Coats of In­di­ana.

Heller spoke with the Demo­crats’ top tar­get, Kirk, about the is­sue Tues­day. “I had a good long talk with Dean Heller today about this very sub­ject, about the length of time and how we pay for it and how we bring the gim­micks out of any pay-for,” Kirk said.

Asked wheth­er he pre­ferred a short-term ex­ten­sion, such as a three-or-six-month patch, Kirk said: “Ob­vi­ously, from my view­point the less cost, the bet­ter.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who voted in fa­vor of the last bill to ex­tend the be­ne­fits and has been in­volved in the talks, agreed that a short-term solu­tion is best. Asked wheth­er a long-term ex­ten­sion, per­haps for a year, was a pos­sib­il­ity, Collins re­peatedly shook her head.

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