In an effort to win support for a bill to reauthorize several expired domestic aid programs -- including extended unemployment benefits -- Senate Democrats are considering eliminating a stimulus bill provision that put an extra $25 per week into every unemployment insurance check.
President Obama's 2009 stimulus bill provided that extra bit of cash via the Federal Additional Compensation program. Lawmakers have reauthorized FAC each time they've reauthorized the extra weeks of federally-funded unemployment benefits put in place to fight the recession. Now Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) has suggested scrapping FAC.
"We're trying to save some money," Tester told HuffPost on Tuesday. "I think we've got to look for opportunities to save money."
On Wednesday morning, the Senate will hold a "test vote" on the broader bill, which includes a reauthorization of long-term unemployment benefits and a measure to prevent a 21 percent pay cut for doctors who see Medicare patients, among other things. It's unclear if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has the 60-vote supermajority he needs to make it happen. Some Democrats are concerned about a tax increase on investment fund managers; others are upset about the bill's deficit impact. Reid stressed the importance of the bill during the weekly caucus lunch on Tuesday.
"I haven't determined what needs to be cut, I've just said it needs to be paid for," said Democratic holdout Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). "If it can't be paid for, I have serious reservations about whether it ought to be considered."
Moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (Maine) have also said they're against the bill in its current form.
The National Employment Law Project, which has been lobbying hard for Congress to preserve all of the stimulus-created jobless aid programs, sent a letter to Senate staffers urging them not to eliminate FAC.
"Without FAC, unemployment benefits average only about $290 per week -- a far cry from any sort of income on which someone can sustain themselves for very long," the letter said. "The extra $25 per week, though seemingly small to many of us, is a fairly significant percentage of overall benefits for many. It can mean the difference between buying milk for their children, or not -- being able to serve well-balanced meals, or not -- or being able to make the co-pay on a necessary prescription or doctor's visit or not. Equally important, that money is pumped directly into local economies, providing very targeted and effective stimulus, which in turn, keeps people in jobs at local places of business."