Congress restores unemployment benefits that were cut off
Congress agreed Thursday to restore jobless benefits to hundreds of thousands of Americans whose unemployment checks were cut off during a partisan debate over whether the cost should be added to the federal deficit, and President Obama signed it into law hours later.
On 59 to 38 vote, the Senate approved an $18 billion measure to continue unemployment benefits until June 2 and to block scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. The House then passed the measure on a 289 to 112 vote.
The bill is designed to buy lawmakers time to negotiate an extension of a current law allowing the jobless to collect as many as 99 weeks of unemployment aid. Benefits were interrupted to more than 200,000 people after Senate Republicans demanded that the cost of the bill be financed with savings elsewhere in the budget.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said "our debt and deficits are as much of an emergency as unemployment, yet Congress continues to pretend it can spend and borrow without restraint."
Democrats balked, saying the bill was an emergency and could be paid for with borrowed money. "We should not balance the budget on the backs of unemployed Americans who, through no fault of their own, are struggling to get by in this recession -- they need these unemployment benefits," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont).