WASHINGTON — Unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months will be allowed to expire on Dec. 28 under a year-end budget deal reached in Congress, leaders acknowledged Wednesday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., confirmed that jobless aid is not part of the agreement and that Congress likely will not revisit the matter until it returns to work in January.
“We’re going to push here after the first of the year for an extension of emergency unemployment insurance when the Senate convenes after the new year,” Reid said.
He said that he was disappointed the budget deal did not address the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which was one of the priorities of Democrats and some Republicans from high-unemployment states, but that “neither side got everything it wanted in these negotiations.”
What that means in Nevada, which has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 9.3 percent, is that checks will stop near year’s end for about 17,500 people who have exhausted their base 26 weeks of state benefits and were collecting federal payments.
The program allowed a maximum combined 73 weeks of benefits for out-of-work Nevadans.
Reid didn’t say whether benefits would be paid retroactively if Congress passes legislation early in the new year. In Carson City, the Employment Security Division is advising recipients to keep filing for benefits throughout January on the chance Congress passes a retroactive extension.
Overall, Reid praised the $85 billion deal, which will fund federal departments through the fall of 2015 and restore almost $63 billion in automatic budget cuts that would have been forced through the so-called sequester.
The deal, negotiated by congressional budget committee leaders Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also appears to end cycles in which the parties failed to agree on spending issues, threatening shutdowns of the federal government.
“This agreement really is a breath of fresh air,” Reid said,
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he was uncertain how he would vote on the budget, which some conservatives are criticizing as allowing too much federal spending.
But Heller said he wanted the chance to vote on jobless benefits within the deal.
“While I am still reviewing the details of this deal, the bottom line is that providing a safety net for those in need is one of the federal government’s most important responsibilities,” Heller said.
“Nevadans have fallen on tough times, which is why I have supported a one-year extension for unemployment benefits in the past and would support such a provision if given an opportunity to vote for it on the Senate floor,” he said.
Meanwhile, Democrats in the House were pushing for Republican leaders to take up jobless benefits one way or another. More than 165 Democrats signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging the House to vote for a one-year extension of the benefits program before it goes home.
Allowing benefits to expire “would not only be a devastating blow for millions of Americans who are already struggling, but it would also hurt our economy,” said the letter, whose signers included Reps. Steven Horsford and Dina Titus, both D-Nev.
Senior House Democrats said the budget deal’s passage may be at risk, as several of their colleagues may refuse to vote for the package lacking jobless aid.
“It’s now in a form where members of our caucus will have to decide for themselves,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.
Democrats prepared an amendment that would extend the program for three months and pay for it through a cut in farm subsidies. But party aides and jobless advocates said they doubted GOP leaders would allow it to be taken up on the House floor.
Boehner said Wednesday that the White House was a day late and a dollar short on extending jobless benefits.
“When the White House finally called me last Friday, I said we would clearly consider it as long as it was paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,” Boehner told reporters. “I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards.”
Republicans have demanded the $25 billion price of extending benefits for another year be offset by cuts to other spending. Congress perennially debates whether such payments qualify as “emergency” spending that does not need to be offset.
Democrats in the Senate introduced a one-year extension bill Tuesday, and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., tried to get it passed. Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, the state with the lowest jobless rate of 2.7 percent, objected.
“There are a number of concerns that members on our side of the aisle have with the legislation, most notably the price tag,” Hoeven said.
“(But) rather than simply providing additional benefits to the unemployed, hopefully we can come up with something that really helps them get back to work.”
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.