Congressional Democrats offered a proposal to Republicans that would reduce maximum U.S. unemployment benefits by six weeks, according to a Democratic aide.
The plan would end unemployment benefits after 93 weeks instead of the 99 weeks now available in states with the nation’s highest jobless rates, said the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. If Congress doesn’t act by Feb. 29, unemployment benefits would be reduced to 26 weeks.
Republicans have proposed reducing the expanded jobless benefits to 59 weeks. Lawmakers are negotiating the benefits as part of a plan that also would continue a payroll-tax cut for workers and prevent a decrease in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements. Congress in December passed a two-month extension for those measures, through this month, because they couldn’t agree on how to pay for them for all of 2012.
“We are going to extend these programs to the end of the year,” said Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican on the House-Senate negotiating panel. “Whether we do it the right way now, or” an “uncertain way, two months to two months, it’s going to get done.”
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has said Republicans’ proposal for a maximum 59 weeks of jobless benefits was unacceptable. The Democratic plan offered today rejected Republican efforts to let states drug-test recipients of unemployment aid and require them to get a high school equivalency degree if they don’t have a diploma, according to a document provided by the aide.
$100 Billion Cost
The Democratic offer didn’t suggest how to cover the $100 billion cost of extending expanded unemployment benefits, the payroll tax cut and Medicare reimbursements through 2012. Republicans have proposed paying for the measure by, among other things, freezing the pay of government workers, which Democrats oppose. Democrats had proposed a surtax for high-income earners.
The disagreement may put the measures at risk of expiring Feb. 29. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia said on the floor today that Republicans want to extend the payroll tax cut.
“We are not in any way, shape or form advocating for taxes to go up on hardworking people,” Cantor said.
The negotiators “need to get moving,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio told reporters at his weekly news conference. “The sooner the better.”
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