Senate Republicans Block Jobless Benefits For Long-Term Unemployed

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WASHINGTON — More than 1.3 million laid-off workers won’t get their unemployment benefits reinstated before Congress goes on a weeklong vacation for Independence Day.

And hundreds of thousands more will lose their benefits in the coming weeks.

For the third time in as many weeks, Republicans in the Senate successfully filibustered a bill Wednesday night that would have continued unemployment checks to people who have been laid off for long stretches.

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The House is slated to vote on a similar measure Thursday, though the Senate’s action renders the vote a futile gesture as Congress prepares to depart Washington for its holiday recess.

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.

“When the economy turns down, there’s a compact that we have, that there’s unemployment insurance for people who, through no fault of their own, lose their jobs,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “We owe them that.”

The measure stands a better chance of passing after a replacement is seated 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 Sen. Byrd,” Reid said.

Byrd’s successor will be named by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.

Unable to deliver more stimulus spending for President Barack Obama, Democrats in Congress had hoped to at least restore the jobless benefits. Obama has urged lawmakers to spend about $50 billion to help states pay for Medicaid programs and to avoid teacher layoffs, but Democrats in Congress have been unable to come up with the votes.

Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession. However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about adding to the growing national debt.

Republicans offered to support the unemployment bill if it was paid for with unspent money from last year’s massive economic recovery package. Democrats rejected the offer, saying the money was needed for jobs programs.

“The only reason the unemployment extension hasn’t passed is because Democrats simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn’t add to the debt,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Republicans, who have argued that the economic recovery package was a failure, say it included plenty of lawmakers’ pet projects that could be cut to cover the $33.9 billion needed to pay for extended unemployment benefits.

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, said, “My concern is that the Democrats are more interested in having this issue to demagogue for political gamesmanship than they are in simply passing the benefits extension.”

The unemployment bill would have provided up to a total of 99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of 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 be borrowed, adding to the budget deficit.

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