By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan agreement to restore unemployment insurance benefits for more than 2.2 million jobless Americans cleared a key Senate hurdle Thursday, but faces continued opposition from Republicans in the House, making final passage uncertain.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH), has called the Senate plan — which overcame a filibuster on a vote of 65-34 — “unworkable.” A group of state benefits administrators has argued that their outdated computers will make it difficult to process jobless claims and prevent fraud under the Senate plan.
The bipartisan group of senators, though, hopes to pressure the House to act in an election year. Lawmakers from high-unemployment states face constituents who need aid after benefits for the long-term unemployed were cut off late last year. 10 Republican senators voted to advance the bill.
The White House has also tried to isolate Boehner’s Republicans as the only barrier standing in the way of jobless aid. Labor Secretary Tom Perez made the rounds on Capitol Hill this week and has said the problems raised by the state administrators could be resolved.
The package would extend benefits retroactively, to Dec. 28, for five months, meaning the unemployed would face another cutoff at the end of May. The $9.6 billion cost would be paid for by imposing customs fees at the borders and other methods.
The bill also includes Republican-requested changes, including a ban on benefits for anyone making more than $1 million a year and workplace assessment programs for the long-term unemployed whose jobs may no longer be available.
The federal aid covers the long-term unemployed who have exhausted the typical six months of benefits provided by most states.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya