WASHINGTON (AP) — Election-year legislation to resume long-term jobless benefits is headed to the House, where a small band of dissident Republicans is leaning on Speaker John Boehner to permit a vote on resuming aid to more than 2 million victims of the Great Recession.
"As many Americans continue to struggle without benefits, we respectfully request that the House immediately consider this bill or a similar measure," seven House Republicans wrote Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Monday. They released their letter as the Senate voted 59-38 for the bill.
The outlook remains cloudy, though, for legislation that took three months to move through the Senate.
In reply, a spokesman for Boehner said, "As the speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private sector jobs."
The spokesman, Michael Steel, said Senate Democratic leaders had last week "ruled out adding any job measures at all."
The White House-backed measure would retroactively restore benefits that were cut off in late December, and maintain them through the end of May. Officials say as many as 2.3 million jobless workers have gone without assistance since the law expired late last year. If renewed, the aid would total about $256 weekly, and in most cases go to men and women who have been off the job for longer than six months.
Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., the bill's leading supporters, said they were willing to consider changes in hopes of securing passage in a highly reluctant House.
Heller also said he was seeking a meeting with Boehner to discuss the measure, although the senator's office did not respond to a request for further information about any session with the speaker.
President Barack Obama, House Democrats and organized labor also seek a renewal of the expired benefit program for the long-term unemployed, but the bill's prospects likely reside with members of the Republican Party.
The Senate vote itself, seven months before congressional elections, capped a bruising three-month struggle. Fifty-one Democrats, two independents and six Republicans voted for approval.
The bill was the first major piece of legislation that Democrats sent to the floor of the Senate when Congress convened early in the year, the linchpin of a broader campaign-season agenda meant to showcase concern for men and women who are doing poorly in an era of economic disparity between rich and poor.
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