The Labor Department announced on Thursday that applications for unemployment benefits fell by 3,000 last week, which means that layoffs remain low. This is good — overall, businesses are feeling justified in keeping their workers. Hiring, of course, is another story. About 3.6 million Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, and benefits for those long-term unemployed expired on December 28, 2013. Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's effort to reinstate benefits, Congress still hasn't agreed on an extension.
But according to Burgess Everett at Politico, a small group of Republican senators are now ready to work with Democrats on the issue. Since December, Republicans have rejected bills to extend benefits twice. Now, Sens. Dan Coats, Dean Heller, Susan Collins, and Rob Portman (a possible 2016 contender) are prepared to find a solution. The four met last week to develop a plan that would satisfy both parties.
"We’re still working on the same thing, which is solving the problem," Portman insists. Coats agrees, "The substance is there for an agreement."
Collins and Heller already voted to extend benefits earlier this month, along with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Lisa Murkowski. That effort failed by one vote. Coats and Portman voted against the bill, because they wanted to include an amendment by Portman that would prevent people from withdrawing both unemployment and disability benefits. Republican Sen. Mark Kirk tells Politico that if Portman's amendment is written into an extension bill, it will pass the Senate.
The Senate reconvenes on Monday, so if Reid is willing to bend, the long-term unemployed may be in luck. Unfortunately, some Democrats already see extending benefits as a lost cause. They're ready to turn their attention to raising the minimum wage. Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer told Politico, "I hope we pass both, but I think minimum wage is a little easier to pass."
Extending benefits is popular — according to a January Quinnipiac poll, 58 percent of voters support the measure. If you break that number down, however, 54 percent of Republicans oppose an extension, while 83 percent of Democrats support one.