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Mark Kirk co-sponsors extension of unemployment benefits

A bipartisan group of senators — including Illinois’ Republican Mark Kirk — ended a long-running election-season standoff and struck a compromise that would extend jobless benefits for 2 million Americans who have been out of work the longest, the lawmakers said Thursday.

“After months of negotiations, this bipartisan compromise includes solutions from both sides of the aisle in extending emergency unemployment benefits,” Kirk said. “This extension does not add to the deficit and helps Americans get back into the workforce.”

Should the Senate approve the election-year measure — as seemed likely — it would throw the issue to the Republican-run House. Its fate there was uncertain.

The timing of a Senate vote also was unclear.

Two leaders of the negotiations —Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev. — said in a statement that the deal would be retroactive to the end of last year, when the emergency benefits program expired. Since then, the benefits have ended for roughly 2 million people.

As the stalemate dragged on, Democrats had said opposition by most Republicans to extending the emergency benefits showed GOP indifference toward helping those out of work. Republicans said they wanted an extension that was fully paid for and which improved the system.

One aide said the measure’s price tag was $9.7 billion.

Lawmakers said the proposal was fully paid for by extending some customs fees and changing how some companies set aside money for pensions, in effect increasing their taxes. More federal revenue would be raised by changing the way some companies make payments to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., which guarantees workers’ pensions.

The deal would end jobless payments to people earning more than $1 million a year. The lawmakers cited 2010 IRS data showing that 0.03 percent of taxpayers earned over $1 million and received some form of federal or state unemployment benefits.

The agreement also has a provision aimed at improving programs that help the long-term unemployed find new jobs.

The measure will need 60 votes to overcome Republican procedural tactics aimed at killing it.

But with Democrats having 55 votes — including two usually supportive independents — supporters seemed to have a strong chance of reaching that threshold because five Republicans co-sponsored the announced deal. They were Heller and Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

ALAN FRAM, Associated Press

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