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Democrats seek to extend emergency jobless benefits

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Congressional Democrats are struggling to revive a plan to extend emergency unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers. Although House leaders say they will pass the measure as soon as Wednesday, its fate in the Senate remains uncertain.

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After trying for weeks to extend jobless benefits as part of a broader economic package, Democrats said Tuesday that they would jettison all other provisions -- including $16 billion in aid to state governments -- and push solely for a six-month extension of jobless benefits and a small adjustment to a tax credit for home buyers.

The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the home buyers' credit, 409 to 5. The measure gives home buyers an extra three months to complete their purchases and still qualify for a temporary tax credit of as much as $8,000.

In a separate vote, the House rejected extended jobless benefits, failing to muster the two-thirds needed for passage. Most Republicans voted no, citing concerns that the measure would add nearly $34 billion to record budget deficits.

Democratic leaders accused Republicans of turning their backs on jobless workers, and vowed to approve the bill Wednesday under different rules that require only a majority vote for passage.

"We haven't given up on job creation for one second. It will pass," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), who acknowledged that time is running out on other provisions. A proposed $1 billion for summer jobs, for example, must be passed this week, otherwise, "that's gone," he said.

The jobless bill and the home buyers' credit would next go to the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is trying to heed a call from Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) to extend emergency benefits for people who have been out of work more than six months. Those benefits expired June 2. If Congress fails to act before the July 4 recess, the Labor Department projects that more than 2 million people will have their checks cut off before lawmakers return to Washington.

Tucked in a much larger package, jobless benefits last week failed to muster the 60 votes needed to advance in the Senate. With Snowe's support, Democrats are hoping it will prevail this week. But it was unclear late Tuesday whether any other Republicans would join Snowe in backing the stripped-down measure.

With the death of Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) and continued opposition of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Democrats have, at most, 57 votes for the jobless extension, meaning they would need the support of at least two Republicans in addition to Snowe.

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