By Ben Pershing
Friday, March 26, 2010; A07
Unemployment benefits are set to expire for at least a week on April 5, as Congress plans to break for two weeks without agreeing on an extension of the program.
Last week, the House approved a $9 billion measure containing one-month extensions of unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and federal flood insurance. Senate Democrats hoped to have their chamber approve the same bill Thursday. But Republicans refused, complaining that the bill is not offset with spending cuts elsewhere.
They said the same thing in early March, when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) brought the chamber to a halt for five days over another extension that wasn't offset.
Senate Democrats and Republicans spent hours negotiating among themselves and with each other to find a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) discussed the possibility of a one- or two-week extension of benefits that would be fully paid for, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was opposed to the idea, according to two Senate aides.
As a result, the House and Senate will leave town without further action. COBRA and flood insurance will expire March 30, and unemployment benefits will expire April 5. The Senate will return to session April 12.
"This will be our first item of business when we come back," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley, who added that the programs in question would be extended retroactively to make up for the time they were expired.
The Senate GOP's refusal to agree to the House's version of the bill was led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who objected to bringing up the bill. Coburn said that by adding to the federal deficit, we are "stealing future opportunity from our children."
But Democrats -- emboldened by the public relations victory they believe they won during Bunning's stand -- laid blame for the impasse at the feet of Coburn and his fellow Republicans.
"It is our hope Republicans will realize the damage they are causing and stop standing in the way of this much-needed assistance for out-of-work Americans," Reid said.