The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

National News

January 9, 2014

Benefits debate is first volley of election year

(Continued)

Reid argued that after a series of belt-tightening measures, there are few places to trim the budget. “If they come with something that’s serious, I’ll talk to them,” he said. “But right now, everyone should understand, the low-hanging fruit is gone.”

The three-month measure before the Senate would restore benefits averaging $256 weekly to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who were cut off when the program expired Dec. 28. The federal coverage generally lasts from 14 to 47 weeks, depending on the level of unemployment within individual states. Without action by Congress, hundreds of thousands more will feel the impact in the months ahead as their state-funded benefits expire, typically after 26 weeks.

The six Republicans who voted to overcome a filibuster were Dean Heller of Nevada, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.

Heller, Coats and Portman represent states with unemployment above the national average of 7 percent.

Even if Democrats and the White House succeed in pushing a bill through the Senate, it still faces a challenge in the Republican-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner made clear he would not rubber-stamp a Senate-passed bill. He said he has previously informed the White House that any measure to renew unemployment benefits “should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work. To date, the president has offered no such plan.”

Democrats were quick to apply political pressure. At the White House, Obama surrounded himself with unemployed Americans and was introduced by Katherine Hackett, an unemployed single mother from Connecticut whose two sons are serving in the military. He said the complaint that aid to the unemployed dampens their job-seeking “really sells the American people short.”

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