U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is open to offsetting the cost of reviving long-term unemployment benefits if Republicans agree to keep the aid for a year.
The Nevada Democrat’s comments came at the end of a second day of talks between members of his party and Republicans who insist on other federal budget reductions to pay for a three-month extension of jobless benefits. Democrats say a three-month extension, costing $6.4 billion, can be provided as emergency aid without offsetting it in the budget.
“There are a number of senators who are having productive conversations about reasonable offsets,” Reid said late today on the Senate floor. “We’ll see where we are in the morning.”
Emergency jobless benefits expired Dec. 28 for 1.3 million Americans. Democrats’ push to extend them marks the start of the party’s election-year focus on income inequality. Democrats also will push to raise the federal minimum wage and increase spending on infrastructure projects to create jobs.
About a dozen Republicans, including six who joined with Democrats yesterday to advance the three-month proposal, have said they are open to extending the jobless benefits as long as lawmakers adopt offsetting cuts.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said today his chamber would consider an extension of benefits “if it was paid for and if there were provisions that we could agree to that would get our economy moving again and put the American people back to work.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell cited several proposals Republicans have made to offset the measure’s cost.
“If the majority leader wants this bill to pass the Senate, then he’s likely going to have to find a way to pay for it,” said McConnell, a Kentucky Republican.
A group of Senate Republicans held a news conference to call for a vote on an amendment proposed by Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. It would require people who seek certain refundable child tax credits to have Social Security numbers. The measure is aimed at curbing fraud and stopping undocumented immigrants from collecting the credits.
Republicans at the event said adoption of the amendment would gain their support for extending jobless benefits.
“I will vote for the extension if you will pay for it,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Reid shot down the proposal, saying that Congress shouldn’t “punish American children” to pay for the benefits.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said today she has spoken to President Barack Obama several times as he courted her vote. She said he was “very receptive” to her proposal to link long-term unemployment benefits to job training
“I was very encouraged by the president’s response,” Collins said.
In addition to Collins and Ayotte, Senate Republicans who supported advancing the legislation were Dean Heller of Nevada, Dan Coats of Indiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.
Collins is the lone Senate Republican seeking re-election this year in a state Obama won in 2012. Coats, Heller and Portman represent states where the November jobless rate was higher than the nationwide rate of 7 percent.
The expanded program started in 2008, when the U.S. jobless rate was 5.6 percent, and at one point provided as many as 99 weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed. At the end of 2013 the maximum was 73 weeks, including 26 weeks of state-funded benefits.
The emergency benefits have been renewed 11 times since President George W. Bush put them in place. All extended benefits are covered by federal dollars, while initial jobless insurance comes from federal, state and employer funds.
Besides casting the measure as a moral imperative, Democrats are stepping up efforts to demonstrate the economic benefits of restoring the weekly payments.