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Senators Agree To Compromise Extending Jobless Benefits


Here in Washington, a bipartisan group of senators has reached an agreement on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed. A Senate vote is expected at the end of this month. As NPR's Ailsa Chang reports, the measure might face stiff opposition in the House.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: The extension would apply retroactively to capture people who've been without long-term unemployment benefits since last December. But this legislation would only last for five months - which means, as Democrat Tom Harkin of Iowa says, senators will be fighting all over again in May.

SEN. TOM HARKIN: As the old saying goes, it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Sure, and if that's all we could get was five months, well, I mean, fine, but we can't just let them drop off the edge of the earth at that time either. You know, we still have too high of an unemployment rate in this country.

CHANG: The bill is paid for by new fees on goods that come through U.S. Customs and by something called pension smoothing. That's a way to allow employers to reduce their payments to employee pensions, which results in more taxable income. Still, the chances that the bill as structured will pass the House are slim.

Speaker John Boehner says he'll only support a measure that comes with a job-creation program. House Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana says Senate Democrats are missing the big picture, that the government needs to help people actually get back to work.

REP. STEVE SCALISE: There are a lot of good bills we've passed out of the House to create jobs, to get people working again, to get our economy moving again and Harry Reid won't take any of those up. Instead, he just wants to continue focusing on unemployment. The problem is, their policies are keeping people unemployed.

CHANG: Scalise argues too many people turn down work while they're on unemployment insurance. A Senate vote isn't expected until senators get back from recess in 10 days.

Ailsa Chang, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.