WASHINGTON -- Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said Wednesday morning that even without a deal on tax cuts for the rich, the Senate would have approved at least a brief reauthorization of extended unemployment benefits.
"I think there would have been some accommodation on unemployment anyway, even if you didn't have this tax bill," said Grassley, senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, on a conference call with Iowa reporters, according to the Quad-City Times.
The White House has crafted a deal with congressional Republicans to reauthorize long-term jobless aid programs for 13 months by attaching the benefits to a two-year reauthorization of expiring Bush-era tax cuts for the rich. Failed Democratic attempts to move benefits through the Senate have made it seem like attaching them to the tax cuts is the only way forward.
Senate Republicans in the past two weeks have blocked several Democratic requests for "unanimous consent" to extend the jobless aid for 13 months, as Republicans (and some conservative Democrats) have insisted that the cost of the benefits not be added to the deficit. They won't object to the roughly $60 billion deficit impact of the benefits, however, so long as they're attached to the tax cuts for people making more than $200,000, even though those cuts represent $95 billion in lost revenue.
Roughly 800,000 unemployed people receiving aid under the Extended Benefits program have already received cutoff notices. Congress allowed Extended Benefits and Emergency Unemployment Compensation, programs that provide up to 73 weeks of federally-funded benefits, to lapse last week. People laid off through no fault of their own are eligible for 26 weeks of state-funded benefits without the programs. The average jobless spell lasts 33.8 weeks.
Grassley said Republicans would probably have allowed a shorter reauthorization without the tax-cuts deal.
"I think it would have been three months," he said. "A Republican measure would have been offset with stimulus money, surplus stimulus money. And if that didn't get 60 votes, then it probably would have been not offset, and it would have been passed on a more partisan basis."
The National Employment Law Project, one of the foremost groups lobbying in favor of the benefits, opposed any reauthorization shorter than a year, since Republicans will control the House of Representatives in 2011 and will make further extensions much more difficult. (Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva said Wednesday he wouldn't mind letting Republicans stiff the unemployed.)
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said he'll do everything he can to block Obama's tax cut deal in the Senate. HuffPost asked Sanders on Wednesday how he'd get a long reauthorization of unemployment benefits through the Senate without the tax cuts.
"It is absolutely imperative that we pass an extension of unemployment benefits," he said, adding that he could get a reauthorization "at the very least for a few months."
A three-month extension of benefits failed to pass the House in November, but only because it was brought to the floor under a "suspension of the rules," meaning it needed a two-thirds majority for approval.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday that the Senate will vote on a potentially modified version of the White House deal "in the next day or two."
If the deal collapses and the benefits are not renewed, two million people will be dropped from federally-funded benefits by the end of the month.