The Senate took a critical first step Tuesday to move forward on a three-month extension of unemployment benefits for 1.3 million unemployed Americans who lost them at the end of 2013.
Six Republicans joined 54 Democrats in voting to avoid a filibuster and allow debate to move ahead in the Senate on a bill that seeks to restore the expired unemployment benefits for Americans who’ve been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. The bill was brought forward by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.).
Extending unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed Americans is a priority for Democrats. They argue that failing to extend the benefit for another three months would not only hurt out-of-work Americans. They say it would also hurt the U.S. economy, which they say could see a loss of 240,000 jobs if the unemployment benefits are not extended.
“Passing this measure is one of the best things we can do for our economy,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Monday on the Senate floor. “And it is a cost-effective way to immediately address some of the worst consequences of growing income inequality in this nation.”
Meanwhile, Republicans contend that the $6.4 billion cost to extend the benefits is too expensive and would hurt the U.S. economy. Some also argue the extension depresses the idea of going out to get a job.
What’s next for Senate bill seeking to extend unemployment benefits?
The Senate bill to extend the unemployment benefits for long-term jobless Americans is on track to pass in the Senate, but it could face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House.
Speaking from the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass the Senate bill “right away.” He warned of the negative consequences for the U.S. economy if the bill doesn’t pass.
The president also applauded the Senate, saying the upper chamber “took a very important step.” He was joined by Americans whose unemployment benefits have expired.
“These aren’t folks who are just sitting back, waiting for things to happen,” Obama said of the unemployed. “They’re out there actively looking for work. They desperately want work.”
“But although the economy has been growing, and we’ve been adding new jobs, the truth of the matter is, is that the financial crisis was so devastating that there’s still a lot of people who are struggling,” he continued. “And in fact if we don’t provide unemployment insurance, it makes it harder for them to find a job.”
House Speaker John Boehner said on Friday he would consider the idea of extending unemployment benefits but only if “it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that’ll help get our economy moving once again.”
Boehner reiterated that message on Tuesday in a statement he released, saying he told Obama a month ago that “another extension of temporary emergency 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,” Boehner said. “If he does, I’ll be happy to discuss it, but right now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America’s unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job.”