Reid: Paying for jobless benefits only way forward in the longer-term

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., conceded Thursday that to renew emergency unemployment benefits for more than a few months, Democrats in Congress will have to agree to Republicans’ demand to offset the program’s cost. Still, he implored Republicans to quickly pass a short-term renewal of the program -- without paying for it -- to renew benefits for the more than 1.3 million Americans who have already lost them.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that in the next few hours we can maybe work out something for a long-term solution of this issue, long-term being more than three months,” Reid told reporters. “But Americans shouldn’t have to suffer while the debate takes place here in Washington. We should get this done for them.”

Earlier in the week, the Senate moved forward a bill to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program for another three months without paying for the $6.5 billion extension. Though the bill was co-sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., just five of Heller’s Republican colleagues joined him in voting to begin debate on the three-month extension.

The EUC program, which was expanded by Congress in 2008 to provide extra income to the long-term unemployed, expired on Dec. 28. Immediately, 1.3 million Americans lost their benefits, and 1.9 million more will lose them in the next six months without a legislative fix.

Reid said he’s had a series of meetings with Reid and Heller, and “they feel that they might have a way to get us finished.” Once the Senate finalized a deal, Reid said it would be too difficult for the Republican-led House to “just turn a blind eye to these people who are desperate for a little help.”

When asked whether the Senate would have to find a way to pay for the benefits, Reid said, “I think so.” Still, he and other Democrats stressed that Republicans should meet Democrats half way and pass immediate assistance in exchange for a longer-term program that’s paid for.  

“We hope our colleagues on the other side of the aisle and in the House will join us with a temporary, three-month extension, and then we will work with them to pass something,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “We believe our best choice is to do it unpaid for, that’s what mostly been done, but we are willing to meet them part way on a reasonable pay-for.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday that an extension of the program must be paid for and include job-creation provisions.

“For those families that have lost their jobs and been unable to find new jobs, it is a crisis for them,” Boehner said. “That’s why the House has been, for the three years that I’ve been speaker, has been focused on jobs and the economy. Because the real answer is to get Americans back to work. I have not talked to the president or Democrat leaders about this issue because I’ve laid out what needs to happen, and they’ve yet to come forward with any plan.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Thursday that Republicans “keep moving the goalposts.”

“‘We want jobs creation’ – a euphemism for tax breaks for the rich,” she said. “And, ‘We want to end regulation’ – clean air, clean water... it’s not just about the monetary offset. The fact is what would be useful is for us to be able to pass the three-month extension” and then discuss job creation.