Jobless benefits advance in Senate with Republican votes

By Ben Pershing
Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Senate moved closer Monday to extending jobless benefits that expired a week ago, overcoming a procedural vote over the objections of deficit-conscious Republicans.

The chamber voted 60 to 34 to proceed on a measure that would extend unemployment insurance, subsidies for the COBRA health insurance program and federal flood insurance through May 5. Four Republicans -- Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio) -- joined every Democrat present in voting to move the bill forward, making it likely that the measure will pass in a final tally this week.

The House approved the same measure in March, so it will go to President Obama's desk if it clears the Senate without amendments.

Because Republicans stalled Democrats' push to move the measure quickly in late March, the Senate was unable to approve the extensions before adjourning for the two-week Easter recess. As of April 5, unemployed people who had exhausted their states' jobless benefits were unable to receive additional benefits under the federal program.

Republicans said last month and reiterated Monday that their opposition was based on the fact that the legislation's $9 billion cost was not offset, adding to the budget deficit. GOP leaders this week plan to make their campaign against the bill one plank in a larger argument about what they call Democrats' free-spending ways.

"Those who continue to use the taxpayer credit card with reckless abandon threaten not only our chances of a quick recovery and the jobs it would create, but also the nation's long-term fiscal security -- and a safety net that's been built up over the decades precisely for moments like this," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor. "Democrats can no longer hide behind the argument of good intentions when the results threaten our very stability as a nation."

Democrats, for their part, made it clear that they thought the extensions needed to pass urgently and didn't need to be offset.

"Blocking unemployment insurance isn't just bad policy or bad political strategy; it is unfair and inhumane," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). "Those blocking this extension say they want the spending offset, but that ignores the fact that unemployment extensions have always been considered as emergency spending."

The question of whether or how to pay for additional unemployment benefits is likely to resurface soon. The House and Senate have passed large jobs bills that include longer-term extensions of jobless benefits. The bills are substantially different and will require extensive bicameral negotiations to reconcile, and Republicans and some conservative Democrats in both chambers are likely to object if the measures aren't fully offset.

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