Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Thursday railed against Congress’ failure to include extending federal jobless benefits to more than 1 million people in a two-year budget deal reached this week.
Reid, D-Nev., accused Republicans of obstructionism and being scrooges at Christmastime.
“With just a little cooperation, we could complete all of the work before us and vote to extend unemployment benefits before Christmas Eve,” Reid said in a statement.
“Congress is finishing this year less popular than a cockroach, and this kind of mindless, knee-jerk obstruction from Republicans is exactly why,” he said.
The budget deal approved Wednesday is aimed at preventing another government shutdown and eases the harshest effect of automatic budget cuts.
But it also excluded extending jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. About 17,000 Nevadans will be cut off from benefits Dec. 28, and state officials have said another 800 will be dropped each week after that as the maximum allowable duration reverts to 26 weeks of state-paid benefits.
The federal program was initiated in 2008 when the nation was gripped by recession and unemployment soared. It allowed the long-term unemployed in hard-hit states to collect benefits for up to 99 weeks. The duration was cut to 73 weeks last year.
Reid said reinstating the program will be a priority when Congress convenes in January.
Though extension of benefits is not certain, the Nevada Division of Employment Security has urged people to continue filing weekly claims so the process will go more smoothly if Congress reinstates benefits.
The majority leader’s criticism came a day after Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., introduced a bill in the Senate to continue the federal unemployment program for three months while a compromise is sought.
“Providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government,” Heller said. “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.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he’s open to extending the benefits but only if they come with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget to cover the cost. A one-year extension would cost $25 billion.
While the economy has been improving, Nevada’s 9.3 percent jobless rate in October remained the highest in the nation. A report on November’s state jobless rate is due out Friday.