Washington (AFP) – U.S. senators struck a bipartisan deal to reinstate emergency benefits for two million of America’s long-term unemployed, easing a months-long congressional impasse.
A group of 10 senators thrashed out the agreement, which would extend for five more months the benefits that ran out in late 2013 amid congressional bickering over how to pay for the insurance.
President Barack Obama had pushed hard for an extension of the emergency benefits last year, but the effort fell apart, leaving 1.3 million jobless in the lurch when their standard 26 weeks of jobless aid expired.
“The president has repeatedly called on Congress to take action on a compromise solution to extend this vital lifeline for millions of hard-working Americans as they look for work and support their families,” a White House statement said.
“This is not just the right thing to do for these Americans looking for work, it’s the right thing to do for our economy.”
Lawmakers stressed that the latest compromise is fully paid for, in part through “pension-smoothing” provisions that were set to expire, and by an extension of customs user fees through 2024.
It would also include skills assessment and referral programs to help get people back into the workforce, and would bar all millionaires from collecting the unemployment insurance.
The cost of the current compromise was not immediately clear, but a proposed three-month extension that failed to pass Congress in December carried a price tag of $6.5 billion.
“We’re not at the finish line yet, but this is a bipartisan breakthrough,” Democratic Senator Jack Reed, an architect of the deal, said in a statement.
The measure will likely need to clear a 60-vote threshold in the 100-member Senate before going to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where it could face opposition from fiscal conservatives.
But lawmakers sounded confident that the agreement they worked out had traction.
“Restoring this much-needed economic lifeline will help job seekers, boost our economy and provide a little certainty to families, businesses and the markets that Congress is capable of coming together to do the right thing,” Reed added.
Senator Dean Heller, the agreement’s chief Republican author, applauded colleagues on both sides.
“This deal extends these important benefits for five months, pays for them and brings buy-in from both sides of the aisle,” he said.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer warned that “every week Congress fails to act will see another 72,000 Americans lose access to this emergency insurance and states lose $400 million in economic activity.”
“Once the Senate has acted, I hope House Republicans will work with us to approve a bill quickly that can restore peace of mind to those who continue to search for work,” Hoyer added.
AFP Photo/Mark Wilson