WASHINGTON -- The top Democrat in Congress on Tuesday mocked a Republican bill that would slash extended unemployment benefits and allow states to drug test the jobless.
"I think what they have in the proposed bill is the wrong side of ridiculous," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said during a press conference at the Capitol. "They cut out a couple score of weeks. And listen to this one: As I read the bill, as my staff reads the bill, they require drug testing for people who are drawing unemployment compensation... So there are reforms necessary, but not this."
Republicans in the House of Representatives have proposed shortening the maximum duration of jobless aid from 99 to 59 weeks, and allowing states to cut benefits further. The bill would also allow states to require claimants to pass a drug test, though states could decide for themselves whether they wanted to do so.
The measure is part of a broader legislative package that includes, among other things, reauthorization of an expiring payroll tax cut, a "doc fix" measure to prevent a 27 percent reduction in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, and a measure pushing the Obama administration to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
Reid previously said the House GOP bill didn't stand a chance in the Senate, calling the pipeline provision "ideological candy-coating." Turns out the unemployment reforms -- which have received much less attention than the pipeline -- are not much less contentious for Reid.
Republicans have not offered any rationale for the drug testing component of their legislation, except to say that anonymous businesses in their districts complain of job applicants testing positive for illegal substances. On Tuesday morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ignored questions from HuffPost on the provision. Instead, Boehner spoke vaguely about the need for unemployment reform.
"While we want to help those who are truly in need, the program has become somewhat unwieldy," Boehner said, responding to a separate question. "When you talk to as many employers as I have over the course of this year, you begin to understand what those problems are. And a lot of these reforms being put in place in this deal have been discussed on a bipartisan basis. I think it's an important part of trying to help those who need help that are unemployed and to do it in a fiscally responsible manner."
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