The Senate will vote next Monday on temporarily extending federal benefits for the long-term unemployed, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
Reid, D-Nev., told The Associated Press he's hopeful a bill co-sponsored by Nevada's Republican Sen. Dean Heller will be approved by the upper chamber, but he offered no prediction on whether it will pass muster in the House of Representatives.
"I don't predict anything in the House," Reid said Monday, describing the Republican-controlled House as a "black hole of legislation."
"We'll see what happens," he said.
But he praised Heller for the bipartisan bill he introduced with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island. The measure would continue the federal jobless program for three months while a compromise is sought.
"I hope we can get that done," said Reid, who has often been at odds with the conservative Heller.
"I'm happy to see Dean has joined us," Reid added. "He's broken away from the tea party folks who don't want to do anything."
When he introduced the bill, Heller said, "Providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government. As Nevada's unemployment rate continues to top the charts nationwide, many families and individuals back home do not know how they are going to meet their basic needs."
A two-year budget deal reached earlier this month failed to include an extension of jobless benefits for people who have been unemployed longer than six months. About 17,000 Nevadans lost benefits when the program expired Saturday. Nationally, 1.3 million were cut off from receiving unemployment.
Nevada officials estimate 800 Nevadans will lose benefits each week as they exhaust their 26 weeks of state-paid unemployment insurance unless Congress extends the federal program that was enacted in 2008 at the height of the recession when unemployment soared. It allowed the long-term unemployed in hard hit states like Nevada to receive benefits for up to 99 weeks. The duration was cut to 73 weeks last year.
Looking ahead to 2014, Reid said one of his priorities will be addressing the wealth gap between the rich, poor and middle class.
"The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is getting squeezed and it's just not fair," said Reid, adding that raising the minimum wage would be another top priority, along with extending jobless benefits.
He said he's scheduled to appear on a Sunday news show to outline his legislative goals in the midterm election year.
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