After more than three months spent jumping over the hurdles Republicans threw up to block an extension of unemployment insurance, the Senate today passed legislation reviving benefits for jobless workers. But the path ahead is even more politically treacherous in the House.
The Senate voted 59-38 to pass a five-month extension that would retroactively restore federal benefits to an estimated 2.3 million Americans who are long-term unemployed. The vote was a victory for Sens. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, who've spent more than three months trying to persuade a small group of GOP senators to break with their party to support an extension.
Democrats retooled the bill to satisfy Senate Republicans, who demanded that the benefits be paid for. The $10 billion cost is offset by tweaks to federal pension payments and higher customs fees. The bill also prohibits millionaires from receiving benefits.
But no one quite knows what will happen next, given the fierce resistance to the extension from both the House GOP leadership and its rank-and-file. A small handful of House Republicans are now pressing for Speaker John Boehner to move forward with the Senate bill, as it's unclear whether the legislation will even come up for a vote on the House floor.
"As many Americans continue to struggle without benefits, we respectfully request that the House immediately consider this bill or a similar measure to restore unemployment benefits to struggling Americans," the group wrote to Boehner. The letter was co-signed by GOP Reps. Jon Runyan and Chris Smith of New Jersey; Chris Gibson, Michael Grimm, and Peter King of New York; and Joe Heck of Nevada, who sent Boehner a similar letter in December.
Boehner says his main objection to the bill is that it fails to "create jobs," despite a study from the Congressional Budget Office showing the contrary. Even if the unemployment bill comes up in the House, Republicans could also amend it in ways that Democrats would find completely objectionable, leaving the jobless in limbo for even longer.