* Democrats seek to muster needed 60 votes
* Measure would restore benefits for 1.7 million Americans
* Would make millionaires ineligible for such relief
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Feb 4 U.S. Senate Democrats on
Tuesday set up a showdown vote with Republicans on a new bill to
extend long-term unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans
while making millionaires ineligible for such relief.
Democrats hold the Senate, 55-45, but may have difficulty
mustering the 60 votes that will be needed on Thursday to clear
a Republican procedural hurdle.
In a bid to build support, Democrats included a provision to
bar those earning more than $1 million a year from drawing
unemployment checks. The measure was modeled after one drafted a
few years ago by Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Tax records show that in 2010 a couple of thousand
unemployed millionaires managed to get federal or state jobless
benefits, backers of the legislation said.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid scheduled the vote for
Thursday after rejecting Republican requests that they be
allowed to propose a number of amendments to the Democratic
In describing the bill on the Senate floor, Reid said, "What
we are going to do is offer a fully paid for three-month
extension of unemployment insurance."
"That's what Republicans said they wanted, and we agreed to
it," Reid said, alluding to Republican demands last month. "We
will not agree to an unlimited number of amendments."
If and when the Senate passes a bill to restore jobless
benefits, the measure would go the Republican-led House of
Representatives for consideration.
The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode
Island Democrat whose state has one of the highest jobless rates
in the nation, more than 9 percent.
Senate Republicans last month blocked an earlier version of
the bill, which Reed co-sponsored with Republican Senator Dean
Heller of Nevada.
But, unlike the previous bill, the new one would fully cover
the $6.4 billion cost of providing jobless benefits for an
additional three months and would not increase the record
federal debt load, Reed said.
In fact, Reed said, it would provide enough additional
revenue to help reduce the debt by $1.2 billion.
Reed explained that the cost of restoring jobless benefits
would be offset by "pension smoothing," which, he explained,
would allow companies to use historical data in determining
That, in turn, would increase revenues and result in
additional taxes to pay for the jobless benefits.
"It is a technique that has been used before by both
Republicans and Democrats in terms of paying for proposals,"
Reed said in a conference call with reporters. "I don't think
that is going to cause any controversy."
A senior Senate Republican aide, however, said there could
be resistance, noting that "pension smoothing" has been "a
gimmick in the past, and it is still a gimmick."
The bill would renew benefits, retroactive to Dec. 28, when
they began ending for the long-term unemployed, generally out of
work for six months or more.
It would also give Congress time to explore ways to pay for
restoring benefits for a full year and consider possible new
Initially, some 1.3 million unemployed people lost their
benefits after Christmas, but that number grew in the past month
to 1.7 million.
Although U.S. unemployment has fallen to 6.7 percent from 10
percent in October 2009, economists say some of the decline is
because many have given up searching for work.
President Barack Obama, top fellow Democrats and their
supporters say restoring the benefits are key to ensuring that
those unemployed workers have a basic safety net in place while
continuing to look for jobs.
They say such relief would also help the overall economy by
pumping money into it. Recipients of jobless benefits receive on
average about $300 a week.