WASHINGTON (AP) — Bipartisan Senate bargainers ended a long-running election-season standoff and struck a compromise renewing expired jobless benefits for five months for more than 2 million Americans who have been out of work the longest, the lawmakers said Thursday.
Approval of the $9.7 billion measure seemed likely by the Democratic-led Senate when it returns in late March from a weeklong recess. That would throw the issue into the Republican-run House, where its fate seemed uncertain.
The parties have dueled over the issue since late last year and it has become fodder for this year's congressional elections. The two sides are competing to show they are trying to create jobs and help families support themselves in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
As the stalemate dragged on, Democrats — backed by President Barack Obama — had said opposition by most Republicans to extending the emergency benefits showed GOP indifference toward helping those suffering most from that recession. Republicans said they wanted an extension that was fully paid for and which improved government programs for supporting the jobless and helping them find work.
Two leaders of the negotiations —Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev. — said in a statement that the deal would be retroactive to Dec. 28, when the emergency benefits program expired.
"We're not at the finish line yet, but this is a bipartisan breakthrough," Reed said.
Heller expressed satisfaction that "Democrats and Republicans have come together on a proposal that will finally give Americans certainty about their unemployment benefits."
Rhode Island had an unemployment rate in December of 9.3 percent, while Nevada's was 9 percent — the two worst rates in the nation.
White House spokesman Jay Carney urged Congress to help the long-term unemployed by approving the compromise, saying, "This is not just the right thing to do for these Americans looking for work, it's the right thing to do for our economy."
Lawmakers said the proposal was fully paid for, with the bulk of the money raised by extending some customs fees through 2024 and changing how some companies set aside money for pensions, in effect increasing their taxes. More federal revenue would be raised by letting some companies make earlier payments to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which guarantees workers' pensions.
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