Unemployment Benefits: Harry Reid Promises Vote This Week

An unemployment benefits extension for the 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for more than 26 weeks should come to a vote in the United States Senate this week if Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid has his way.

Because Congress left for the holidays without bothering to pass an unemployment benefits extension, any job-seeker who has already gone past the 26 weeks of initial unemployment insurance simply had benefits cut off on December 28.

But President Barack Obama has been pressing Congress to pass a new federal extension of unemployment benefits and used his weekly radio address Saturday to do so again. Reid told NBC News that he plans to bring a bill for new unemployment benefits to the Senate as soon as Congress goes back to work on Monday.

If a new extension fails to pass, another 1.9 million job-seekers will have their benefits taken away by Congress during 2014.

The one obstacle a new unemployment benefits extension faces in the Senate is procedural. To bring the issue to a vote requires a preliminary vote, and that takes 60 votes in favor, not a simple majority of 51. But Reid is optimistic the hurdle can be crossed.

“There’s 55 of us, and there’s 45 of them,” Reid said. “It would seem to me that five Republicans in the Senate should agree with the Republicans around the country. Republicans around America want us to do something to extend these benefits. Why? Because it’s good for the economy. It’s good for the country.”

Some Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives have expressed willingness to support a new extension of unemployment benefits, but only if Democrats are willing to trade something to get it.

“I would like to find a way to get a compromise to extend unemployment insurance, at least for a brief period of time,” New York Republican Congressman Peter King told CBS News. “At the same time, the Democrats should make compromises.”

In December, Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul said it would be a “disservice” to out-of-work Americans extend unemployment benefits, saying that as long as they receive the benefits, people are too lazy to look for work. Once the benefits are cut off, people are more likely find jobs, Paul said.

But a recent study of North Carolina, which drastically reduced unemployment benefits in July, found no corresponding increase in employment in that state, Bloomberg News reported. In fact, it found the opposite. Cutting off unemployment benefits caused job seekers to stop looking for work altogether

New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer today called Paul’s statement “insulting” to those out of work.

“Most of the people I meet who are on unemployment are people who have had jobs for 25 years, lost them, they’ve been knocking on doors every week. They want to work, they don’t want unemployment benefits. You cut them off, they may lose the house they paid for, take their kids out of college. So I would hope he would reconsider, past the three month extension.”

The bill that Reid hopes to bring to the Senate this week would grant only a stopgap, three-month extension of unemployment benefits.