WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate approved legislation Monday that would reinstate expired jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, but the proposal faces opposition from House Republicans who say it doesn't do enough to spur job creation.
The bill passed 59-38.
The bipartisan Senate bill, crafted by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., is a short-term fix. It would reinstate benefits for five months and would be paid retroactively through May.
Unemployment benefits for workers who have been unemployed for longer than 26 weeks expired in December. About 2.79 million Americans will be eligible for benefits if the extension is approved.
The nearly $10 billion cost of the extension would be paid for by extending custom user fees through 2024 and by allowing companies to change the way they pay in to their pension programs.
The legislation faces an uncertain fate. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he does not support extending jobless benefits if the package does not include any provisions intended to create jobs.
"I made clear that if we're going to consider dealing with emergency unemployment, we ought to do something about creating better jobs in America, higher wages in America," Boehner recently told reporters. Asked whether he was concerned about the millions affected by the congressional impasse, he replied, "What those people want is a chance at a good job, and I'm trying to get them one."
President Obama said in a statement after the Senate vote, "Each week Congress fails to act on this crucial issue, roughly 70,000 long-term unemployed Americans lose their vital economic lifeline. I urge House Republicans to stop blocking a bipartisan compromise that would stem this tide, take up the bill without delay, and send it to my desk."
There is support among House Republicans to amend the package and send it back to the Senate, but there is no consensus on what to ask for in exchange for their support. Proposals have been floated on a number of issues, including job training programs, approval of construction for the Keystone XL oil pipeline or the repeal of an unpopular tax on medical devices.
The House has previously bowed to pressure from the Senate and public demand to extend jobless benefits without conditions. At least seven House Republicans from centrist districts asked the speaker to put the bill to a vote. The measure would probably pass on the strength of Democratic support.
GOP Reps. Pete King, Chris Gibson and Michael Grimm of New York; Frank LoBiondo, Chris Smith and Jon Runyan of New Jersey, and Joe Heck of Nevada are all publicly in support of reinstating the unemployment benefit.
Jobs and the economy are a top focus for both parties in the 2014 midterm elections.
Senate Democrats will move forward in the coming weeks on legislation on pay equity for female workers and a federal hike in the minimum wage. Republicans have rejected those Democratic efforts as election-year gambits to motivate their base, noting that efforts by GOP lawmakers, such as Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to forge a compromise on the wage increase have been dismissed by Democrats.