Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 | 2 a.m.
After five weeks of suspended benefits, jobless workers will get another chance at having their checks restored today when the Senate votes on a new, paid-for, three-month extension.
The latest bill seeks to offset the $6.4 billion cost of extending federal funding for unemployment benefits with a tactic called “pension smoothing.”
The practice works by temporarily lowering employers’ obligations to contribute to employee pension plans. Because employers can’t write off that money, more taxable income flows to the federal government — enough to cover the cost of the three-month benefits extension.
Pension smoothing has critics, but it’s become a familiar offsetting feature in intractable congressional battles. Last year, pension smoothing was used to offset extension of student loan rates, getting the support of 24 Republicans.
For now, though, Democrats are the only ones stumping for this measure.
“We have an issue here. (Republicans) do not want an unemployment insurance extension. They don’t want it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this week, shortly before announcing he’d put a reworked three-month extension on the floor for a vote. “They don’t count these people as voters. We do.”
Republicans have criticized Reid in past weeks for trying to politicize the unemployment issue. But Democrats charge that Republican counteroffers — such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s suggestion to offset the cost by repealing Obamacare — are unreasonable.
A proposal from an octet of Republicans that would have paid for the extension by requiring jobless benefits recipients to choose between receiving disability or unemployment, but not both, was also dismissed by Democratic leaders, though it echoed a proposal President Barack Obama had made in his proposed 2014 budget.
Reid has said he has “58 or 59” of the 60 votes needed for the unemployment bill to pass.
Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is the only Senate Republican who has said he would vote for an extension of unemployment benefits even without cost offsets.