WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will introduce new legislation Tuesday to restore long-term unemployment insurance for 2 million workers.
According to an aide, the bill would reauthorize the compensation for six months retroactive to Dec. 28th, when the benefits lapsed for 1.3 million workers (more claimants have become eligible for federal benefits since then). Reid's plan is to use savings from the recently passed farm bill in order to offset the cost of the measure and win Republican support.
Several Republican senators have said they support reauthorizing the benefits, but only if the cost is offset -- and it has to be offset in a way that they like. It's unclear if farm bill savings will win them over.
"We're in this gray area from Republicans where we get positive signals but they refuse to commit," the aide said. "We're basically willing to compromise on every aspect of this to get this done."
In addition to offsets, Republicans have demanded reforms to the unemployment insurance system, such as new rules to ban millionaires from receiving benefits and to prohibit unemployment claimants from simultaneously receiving Social Security Disability Insurance.
To that end, the aide said Reid would allow Republicans to offer at least four amendments, though it's not yet clear whether amendments would need 50 or 60 votes to pass. In January, Reid allowed Republican amendments to an ill-fated unemployment bill, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained Reid's 60-vote threshold meant the outcome had been "fixed."
The new legislation could come up for a vote next week. The last time the Senate voted on jobless pay, Democrats fell one Republican vote short of advancing the legislation. Even if the Senate approved a bill, the House of Representatives is another story.
"Families aren’t going out for spaghetti and meatballs anymore. They aren’t buying their kids new jeans or backpacks. Purchases that once seemed like modest treats have become unaffordable luxuries," Reid said on the Senate floor last month, lamenting the struggles of the middle class. "Restoring unemployment benefits is by no means enough to secure our shrinking middle class. But it is a good first step."