WASHINGTON – The Senate is expected to easily approve legislation today that would restore unemployment benefits to nearly 3 million people, throwing the bill to a divided House where Republicans favor starkly different approaches to the issue.
Six Senate Republicans joined all 55 Democrats last week to end debate on legislation that retroactively restores benefits cut off December 28 and extends them through June 1, clearing the way for passage today.
Seven House Republicans from high-unemployment regions or swing districts plan to send the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio, a letter coinciding with Senate passage to urge him to take up the Senate bill or a similar measure.
Other House Republicans are pressing to attach to the Senate bill what they call job-creation measures: building the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline; consolidating job training programs; or requiring employer-mandated health care coverage for employees who work 40 hours a week, rather than 30, as written in President Obama’s health care law.
But many House Republicans oppose passing the unemployment benefits under any circumstances, arguing that such “emergency” benefits are no longer needed nearly six years after they were first extended at the outset of the recession.
Democrats would like an improving economy to benefit Obama – and thus benefit them during the 2014 congressional campaigns. But they also want to keep the pressure on Republicans to renew unemployment benefits.
Republicans have the opposite task: Paint the economic recovery as woeful but not so bad as to warrant renewed aid to the unemployed.
“America doesn’t work when hardworking people can’t find the jobs or hours they need to make ends meet,” Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader, said Friday.
Republicans pushing for the benefits include: Reps. Jon Runyan, Christopher Smith and Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey; King, Chris Gibson, and Michael Grimm of New York; and Joe Heck, whose Nevada district has the third-highest unemployment rate.
“There are still states having a hard time getting out of this recession,” Heck said, adding that he opposed loading an unemployment bill with other matters favored by fellow Republicans.
House Republican leaders have yet to decide their approach to the issue, senior aides said.
Most House Republicans feel no pressure to act quickly, but some do relish the chance to send the Senate’s unemployment bill back to Senate Democrats with at least one of the measures that divide them: the Keystone pipeline, a repeal of the tax on medical devices in the Affordable Care Act or raising the hours-per-week threshold where the employer-mandated coverage kicks in.