After three months and multiple failed attempts, the Senate has finally reached a tentative agreement to restore unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. House Speaker John Boehner has already said he'd block similar legislation.
On December 28 of last year, an estimated 1.3 million Americans who'd been out of work for at least six months lost unemployment benefits when the program expired. Prior to that point, Congress had continuously extended the program over the past four years. But since people kept being added to the rolls of those out of work for 26 weeks, the number hit 2 million earlier this month. Restoring benefits to the full group has been a priority of Capitol Hill Democrats, but time after time after time no extension was passed.
The details of the compromise bill are as follows, according to Huffington Post's Sam Stein:
- Retroactive payment of benefits to December.
- Extends the program through May.
- Uses two budget tweaks to pay the estimated $10 billion price tag: increased customs user fees and something called "pension smoothing" which, National Journal explains, involves allowing employers to reduce pension payments. (One watchdog group calls that a "gimmick," which such things often are.)
The details broadly mirrors a Republican proposal introduced last week, which could help it overcome a likely Republican filibuster in the Senate. But at that point, it's unlikely the House will act. House Speaker John Boehner has repeatedly said that he would only support an extension "as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again." None of the previous approvals have met that standard. On Friday, his spokesman confirmed that Boehner opposed the Republican proposal, too.
The May end date was meant to provide benefits while giving Congress time to develop a longer-term strategy. That seems unlikely to happen as well.