AP Sources: House GOP bill renews jobless benefit

December 1, 2011 - 12:32 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans are drafting legislation to renew an expiring unemployment benefits program, officials said Thursday, and intend to add it to a planned extension of a Social Security payroll tax cut due to run out on Dec. 31.

The measure is expected on the House floor as early as next week, and marks the second sign in as many days that lawmakers in both parties are eager to close out the year with a compromise on key elements of President Barack Obama's jobs program.

Republican officials say the cost of the extension of both programs will be covered within the measure, making sure deficits don't rise as a result.

The officials who spoke did so on condition of anonymity to provide details in advance of a formal announcement.

With unemployment hovering around 9 percent nationally, Obama urged Congress in September to renew and expand the payroll tax cut he signed a year ago, and called as well for an extension of benefits that can cover up to 99 weeks for the long term jobless.

The core state-paid unemployment insurance program guarantees coverage for six months but Congress typically has provided additional weeks of federal jobless benefits in bad times. The latest cycle of additional benefits began in 2008, the last year of George W. Bush's administration.

Letting extended jobless assistance expire would mean that more than 6 million people would lose benefits averaging $296 a week next year, with 1.8 million cut off within a month.

It was unclear what changes, if any, Republicans intend to propose for the unemployment benefit portion of the bill.

A struggle already has broken out over steps to pay for the payroll tax increase.

Senate Democrats want to levy a 3.5 percent surtax on million-dollar tax filers to cover the costs, while Senate Republicans unveiled an alternative on Wednesday that relies on freezing federal workers' pay through 2015 and reducing the government's bureaucracy by 200,000 jobs. The bill also would raise Medicare premiums for the wealthy, and take steps to deny unemployment benefits and food stamps to anyone with a seven-figure income.

Neither of the two alternatives appears likely to win the 60-vote majority needed to advance, a double-barreled rejection that would presumably clear the way for final negotiations on a compromise.