Jobless aid stalls in Senate; home buyers get more time

By Lori Montgomery
Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Senate failed once again late Wednesday to advance a plan to restore jobless benefits for people out of work more than six months, leaving millions of unemployed workers in limbo until after the July 4 recess.

The measure fell one vote shy of the 60 needed to end a Republican filibuster. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) said he was prepared to provide that vote, but that Democrats had rejected his request to pay for at least half of the $34 billion measure with unspent funds from last year's stimulus package.

"Democrats are more interested in having this issue to demagogue for political gamesmanship than they are in simply passing the benefits extension," Voinovich, who is retiring, said in a statement. "I came to the table with a fair compromise and the ball is in their court."

Democrats countered that the 9.7 percent jobless rate constitutes a continuing emergency that, under congressional budget rules, has traditionally been addressed through deficit spending.

"For those who question whether this is an emergency situation, they should talk to the Nevadans who I hear from every day who rely on this assistance to put food on the table and pay the bills while they look for work," Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said at a news conference with Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis.

That argument won over at least two Republicans: Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine voted for the stripped-down measure, which would have restored jobless benefits that expired June 2 and extended the deadline for home buyers to claim a tax credit aimed at reviving the housing market until Sept. 30. After the overall bill failed, the Senate passed a separate measure that sent the tax credit to President Obama for his signature.

At Snowe's urging, Democrats had jettisoned numerous other provisions from the jobless bill, including $16 billion for cash-strapped state governments, $1 billion for summer jobs and $32 billion in special-interest tax breaks that expired earlier this year.

But other Republicans -- as well as Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) -- continued to insist that at least a portion of the jobless benefits be paid for, arguing that the nation can no longer afford to add to record budget deficits. When it became clear that the vote would fail, Reid switched sides for strategic reasons, making the final vote 58 to 38.

House leaders were planning to take up the jobless bill Thursday and said they expect it to pass. But its failure in the Senate ensures that more than 2 million people will have their checks cut off before Congress returns to Washington after a week-long break. The Labor Department estimates that more than 1.2 million people already have been affected.

States typically provide unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. Congress triggered emergency benefits in 2008 and expanded them in last year's stimulus package. On June 2, the federal programs was providing more than 5 million people with up to 99 weeks of assistance.

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