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Senators reach compromise on unemployment insurance

After months of haggling and false starts, a group of 10 senators have reached a deal to restore emergency unemployment benefits that will garner enough votes to pass.

Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., announced Thursday that they struck a deal to reauthorize the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program for five months, in addition to retroactively paying benefits that expired on Dec. 28. Two million people have already stopped receiving their checks, and 1.6 million more stood to lose them by the end of 2014 if the program was not renewed.

The basic framework of the bill will pay for a benefit extension by using a combination of spending reductions that include "pension smoothing," that allows companies to use historic interest rate averages to calculate pension contributions, extending certain customs user fees, and allowing single-employer pension plans to prepay their flat rate premiums to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Other offsets will draw on ideas from various lawmakers that should help guarantee support for the bill. It borrows a provision from Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Jon Tester, D-Mont., that ends unemployment insurance payments to any individual whose adjusted gross income in the preceding year was $1 million or more (0.03 percent of filers in 2010, according to the bill's authors), as well as ideas from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to strengthen programs that will give more individualized aid to the long-term unemployed.

"There are a lot of good people looking for work and I am pleased we're finally able to reach a strong, bipartisan consensus to get them some help. Restoring this much needed economic lifeline will help job seekers, boost our economy, and provide a little certainty to families, businesses, and the markets that Congress is capable of coming together to do the right thing," Reed said in a statement. Heller called the last few months "extremely difficult for thousands of Nevadans" and expressed his gratitude to Reed as well as his Republican colleagues who joined in the effort.

In addition to Reed and Heller, the bill is being cosponsored by Collins and Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Mark Kirk, R-Ill.; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Although a previous compromise measure failed to clear a 60-vote threshold necessary to overcome a filibuster by just one vote, Reed and Heller both said they are confident this agreement will have enough support.

Because of the limited time left before the Senate leaves for a weeklong recess, the deal will probably not receive a vote until they return in the last week of March.

On the House side, Democrats are filing a "discharge petition," which would force the Republican leadership to put their version of an unemployment benefits extension up for a vote if a majority of House members sign on. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Wednesday there were more than 100 House Democrats who were immediately signing the petition, but it's unlikely to get enough Republican support to make it to the floor.

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