Reid preps for another vote on extending jobless benefits

WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid began setting the stage this week for another bid to extend federal unemployment benefits that have expired for 2 million workers since late December.

The Senate majority leader from Nevada introduced a bill Tuesday to authorize payments for six months retroactive to Dec. 28, when the federal program of emergency compensation expired.

The bill would apply savings from a farm bill that recently passed Congress to pay for the new benefits costing roughly $13 billion.

The action comes as the number of long-term jobless people whose payments have halted grew from 1.7 million at the end of December to more than 2 million now, according to a report Wednesday by the Democratic staff of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The basic 26 weeks of state-paid benefits expire each week for another 72,000 people, according to the report.

Through March 8, the number of Nevadans whose benefits have expired is 26,023, according to the report. The state’s unemployment rate of 8.8 percent is second-highest in the nation, behind Rhode Island’s 9.1 percent.

“The number of Nevadans hurt by the expiration of benefits will continue to climb until this fever of obstruction breaks in Washington,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev. “The unemployed in Nevada have enough stress in their lives; Congress should not be adding to it.”

The Senate has failed twice to extend benefits, each time failing to reach 60 votes necessary to advance the bill.

While Democrats have voted for the extension, most Republicans have voted to block it because of disputes with Reid over amendments they want to debate on alternative ways to pay for the bill or making changes to job training programs.

Reid said Wednesday he remains one vote short of 60, and he was unsure when he will call for a new vote. When he introduced the bill, he said a vote might come “in the next few days.”

“I have to pull out all the stops to pick up another Republican vote,” he said.

A snowstorm that delayed votes for two days this week has complicated the Senate’s schedule, and senators are set to take another recess the week of March 17.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has voted to extend the compensation program.

“He is currently evaluating this proposal and will continue to talk with his Republican and Democratic colleagues to see how everyone can work together in order to get something done,” Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau chief Steve Tetreault at 202-783-1760 or STetreault@stephensmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.