Reed is still hoping to revive an unemployment extension. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Updated 6:17 a.m. | Prospects for an unemployment extension remain bleak, but Sen. Jack Reed isn’t ready to give up.
The Rhode Island Democrat told CQ Roll Call Tuesday he is still looking for a way to resurrect the emergency unemployment benefits for nearly 3 million people, assuming Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, continues to block the five-month unemployment extension passed by the Senate early last month.
In addition to an amendment Reed wants to add to a package of mostly corporate tax cut extensions, he’s also looking at hitchhiking a ride on the highway bill, which Congress must pass before the highway trust fund is depleted sometime this summer.
But there’s still no answer to a dynamic that has led to the current impasse. Boehner for months has demanded an offer of a legislative sweetener from the White House, which has yet to materialize, and many conservatives remain opposed to the idea of an extension regardless.
Reed continues to discuss what to do next with his partner on the issue, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
The Senate bill they pushed through the Senate was offset by customs fees and other revenue raisers. It would provide retroactive benefits to the unemployed back to Dec. 28, when the existing benefits expired.
“There are two basic issues,” he said. “We need a legislative vehicle because the House is refusing to do the obvious and pass our bill, which is bipartisan and paid for.”
Reed acknowledged that they are also discussing whether to give up on retroactive benefits.
“We also have to think, because we are running to the end of our five months, whether it is all retrospective, do you reconfigure it to prospective, or do you try to adopt a whole year and even do both.”
The tax extenders legislation and the highway bill are the “obvious” need-to-do bills, Reed said.
Another vehicle that had been seen as a possibility weeks ago — the bipartisan rewrite of the Workforce Investment Act, a priority of the House GOP, appears to be off the table.
Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told CQ Roll Call Tuesday that Senate Democratic leaders had decided not to attach unemployment benefits to that bill.
Reed held out a sliver of hope.
“If someone from [the House] called me up and said “hey guess what, we just agreed to include your proposal in WIA,’ I’d say great take the credit for it,” Reed said.
That probably amounts to wishful thinking.
“But we are not stopping, I’ve been talking constantly with Sen. Heller and I’m trying to figure out where to go,” Reed said.
Alan K. Ota and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
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