There are 3.5 million people who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks.
By BURGESS EVERETT | 5/18/14 5:05 PM EDT
Senate negotiators toiled for months to revive long-term unemployment benefits in a manner that could draw the support of both centrist Republicans and liberal Democrats.
But in a few days, that effort will be all for naught.
The jobless aid bill that narrowly passed the Senate in early April would extend the benefits to June 1 — but barring a surprise breakthrough, there’s almost no chance the House will take up that legislation or an alternative of its own during the last two weeks of May.
So, the lack of agreement between the two chambers is sending the bill’s chief sponsors back to square one — with several Republicans doubting the Senate has the stamina to find billions more dollars to pay for a longer-term bill and then persuade the House to pass it.
“I’m worried,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “Because with each passing day, it’s going to become more difficult to reinstate the program. And in the meantime, we’re going to start seeing another wave of individuals who will lose their benefits.”
Complicating things further is the Senate’s partisan deadlock over GOP demands for amendment votes from an unbending Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), an ugly war that has killed two bills recently that are far less controversial than a pricey extension of unemployment benefits.
There had been talk of adding unemployment insurance as an amendment to a tax extenders bill, but that legislation is on the verge of dying a quick death after failing to clear a procedural vote on Thursday.
It looks increasingly likely that this spring’s rare bout of bipartisan cooperation on unemployment benefits — the deal was backed by all Senate Democrats and six Republicans — will be impossible to re-create. Senate leaders are turning their focus to the November battle for the majority rather than working together on, well, anything.
“I’m not quite sure what the Senate has energy for,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) with an audible sigh of frustration. “Honestly, on our side nobody’s talking about [unemployment benefits] right now.”
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