By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The Senate is poised Thursday to try again to extend unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans with a new Democratic proposal that aims to attract Republican support by prohibiting millionaires from receiving aid.
It remains to be seen whether Republican senators will sign on.
Democrats, who have the majority in the Senate, need a handful of Republicans to reach the 60-vote threshold required to advance the legislation. Several Republicans have indicated they want to provide benefits that have run out for the long-term unemployed; others in the party believe the aid is a disincentive to work.
But many Senate Republicans continue to balk over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s refusal to allow amendments that GOP leaders would like to attach to the bill, including some that are not directly related to jobless aid.
Their dispute stems from bitter filibuster fights last year, and Republicans are unlikely to give their support unless they are guaranteed a chance to amend the legislation.
In the meantime, Democrats are happy to continue raising the issue in an election year, which puts the party on the side of most Americans who favor extending unemployment aid.
President Barack Obama has pushed jobless aid as a central issue in the party’s reelection strategy. More than 1.7 million Americans are no longer eligible for benefits beyond the 26 weeks offered by most states. Benefits expired late last year, as Congress stalemated. An additional 72,000 people join the rolls each week.
The current proposal would extend benefits until March 31, and it meets the Republican demand that the costs be offset. The $6.4-billion price tag would be paid for by continuing a previously approved change in private pension requirements that is expected to temporarily increase tax revenues. Those with adjusted gross income above $1 million last year would be ineligible, drawing from a proposal by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK).
“This will be a crucial vote and a critical test of whether Congress can listen to the American people and come together to do what is in the best interest of our economy,” said Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the bill’s sponsor, whose state now has the highest unemployment rate, at 9.1 percent.
AFP Photo/Alex Wong