WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted to advance legislation restoring benefits for the long-term unemployed that the Obama administration has sought to revive since they expired late last year.
By a vote of 65-34, with 60 required for approval, the Senate agreed to move toward taking up the measure, which is the product of a bipartisan agreement struck earlier this month by Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, Nevada Republican Dean Heller and eight other senators.
Ten Republicans joined with the chamber’s 55 Democrats and voted in favor of advancing the bill, which faces opposition in the Republican-run House.
“That’s very positive,” Heller said of Republican support for the measure. “Obviously, we’re going to move this bill forward, and what I’m hoping is that there will be momentum coming out of this so that when we send it over to the House, it will send the right message.”
The bill, which the Senate probably will complete early next week, would reauthorize emergency unemployment benefits for five months. “We’ll start that conversation next week,” Heller said of efforts to persuade House Republican leaders to support the Senate measure. “I think the important thing right now is that we get this bill out, get it over there and let them know that there’s a real desire for this kind of change.”
He added, “I think we’ll be able to iron out whatever their issues or problems are.”
The cost of renewing expanded jobless benefits would be covered by extending so-called pension smoothing, which was set to phase out this year. That maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to pension funds, meaning short-term taxable income would rise as they claim fewer deductions.
Other offsets include extending customs user fees through 2024 and allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat-rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.
President Barack Obama has pressed lawmakers for months to reach a compromise on extending the aid. The measure agreed to by senators would be retroactive to Dec. 28, when the emergency benefits expired for about 1.6 million Americans.
The Congressional Budget Office said in a preliminary estimate that the emergency benefits would cost almost $9.9 billion while cutting the deficit by almost $9.4 billion through 2019. That’s because prepayment of Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premiums would generate almost $18.4 billion in extra revenue over the next five years.
The last time Democrats tried to act on this issue, they pressed for three months of benefits. The bill, S. 1845, stalled when backers didn’t have enough support to cut off debate. The Feb. 6 vote was 55-43.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois joined Heller in signing on to the agreement reached earlier this month. All supported advancing the bill, along with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio has said the House would consider extending unemployment benefits only if the Senate offsets the cost with budget savings and included measures to promote job creation.