Congress breaks before bill is passed
WASHINGTON – More than 1.3 million laid-off workers won’t get their unemployment benefits reinstated before Congress goes on a weeklong break for Independence Day.
And hundreds of thousands more will lose their benefits in the coming weeks.
The House voted 270-153 Thursday to extend jobless benefits for people who have been laid off for long stretches, but the gesture was made futile by the Senate’s inability to pass the bill. For the third time in as many weeks, Republicans in the Senate successfully filibustered a similar measure Wednesday night before senators adjourned for vacation.
A little more than 1.3 million people have already lost benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May, according to the Labor Department. By the end of the week, the number will jump to 1.7 million. By the end of July, it would top 3 million.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama urges Republican Senate leaders to “end their obstruction of this critical aid.”
Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said “it is hard to understand how anybody can come to this floor and say, for 1.7 million people and their families, this is not an emergency.”
The bill would extend unemployment payments for up to a total of 99 weeks, for people whose state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would be available through the end of November, at a cost of $33.9 billion. The money would have been borrowed, adding to the budget deficit.
The payments average a little more than $300 a week.
Republicans, tapping into voter anger about the growing national debt, said they would support extending the benefits if the bill was paid for. They proposed using unspent money from President Barack Obama’s massive 2009 economic recovery package.
Democrats rejected the offer, saying the money was needed for jobs programs. Republicans said the stimulus package included plenty of lawmakers’ pet projects that could be cut to cover the unemployment benefits.
“Americans are not receiving their unemployment checks because Democrats refuse to pay for these benefits at a time of record federal deficits,” said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.
Thursday’s debate grew heated at times, as lawmakers prepared to face unemployed voters back in their districts during the weeklong break.
“I challenge you to look people in the eye and tell them that you voted no,” said Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. “Tell them as they swallow their pride that you don’t care, that you don’t have a heart, that you don’t have any feeling.”
The measure stands a better chance of passing the Senate after a replacement is named for Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who died Monday. The measure fell two votes short of the 60 needed to advance Wednesday night, but only because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of the bill, voted “nay” to take a procedural step that would allow for a revote.
“We will vote on this measure again once there is a replacement named for the late Senator Byrd,” Reid said.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, will choose Byrd’s successor.
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