Author Topic: Jobless benefits bill clears key Senate hurdle  (Read 172 times)

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Jobless benefits bill clears key Senate hurdle
« on: January 07, 2014, 11:21:07 AM »

Jobless benefits bill clears key Senate hurdle
Published January 07, 2014


A controversial jobless benefits bill narrowly cleared a key Senate hurdle on Tuesday, over the objections of Republicans who complain the $6 billion measure is not paid for.

Senators voted 60-37 to advance the bill extending long-term jobless benefits, which expired Dec. 28. Democrats needed 60 votes to move the bill forward.

But Republicans blasted Democratic leaders for pushing the bill without any plan to offset the cost elsewhere in the budget.

"This is all borrowed -- every penny of it," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Fox News.

Backers of the extension still need to clear several additional votes in the Senate, before the GOP-controlled House can even consider it.


Democrats are taking a no-compromise stand on extending long-term jobless benefits, charging ahead with a Senate vote amid claims from Republicans that the push amounts to little more than political posturing.

"It is transparent that this is a political exercise, not a real effort to try to fix the problem," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said.

After weather delayed a scheduled vote Monday, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid plans to hold a test vote late Tuesday morning.

But Republicans, some of whom have indicated a willingness to consider an extension if it's paid for, are ripping Democratic leaders for pushing a three-month bill that would not offset the $6.4 billion cost elsewhere in the budget. GOP lawmakers suggest Democrats are more interested in shaming Republicans than passing a meaningful bill.

The rhetoric on Capitol Hill cranked up quickly as lawmakers returned from the holiday break.

Reid claimed the middle class is "under siege."

Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council, declared at the White House press briefing that Congress should pass the short-term bill with "no strings attached."

Reid needs to corral 60 senators to pass the first test vote on Tuesday, and will need five Republicans. One, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is the lone GOP co-sponsor of the legislation. It's unclear whether Reid can win over another four -- though Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is expected to vote to advance the bill.

But many Republicans groused that the bill is not paid for.

"This is all borrowed -- every penny of it," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Fox News.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blasted Democrats for suggesting his party doesn't "care about people."

"I think we've abandoned truth in Washington," he told Fox News. "When we move to the area where people can't trust our words because our words are always based on spin and not on facts ... what you're seeing is the unwinding of our institutions."

Obama plans to speak about the bill and other economic issues shortly before noon at the White House.

As drafted, the bill would restore between 14 weeks and 47 weeks of benefits averaging $256 weekly to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who were affected when the program expired Dec. 28. Without action by Congress, thousands more each week would feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks.

Republicans appeared split into three camps: Heller and an unknown number of others; a group that is willing to renew the benefits, but insists that the $6.4 billion cost be paid for; and a third group opposed under any circumstances.

Two influential outside organizations opposed the bill, including Heritage Action, which called the program of extended unemployment benefits "ineffective and wasteful."

At issue was a complicated system that provides as much as 47 weeks of federally-funded benefits, which begin after state benefits, usually 26 weeks in duration, are exhausted.

The first tier of additional benefits is 14 weeks and generally available to all who have used up their state benefits.

An additional 14 weeks is available to the unemployed in states where unemployment is 6 percent or higher. Nine more weeks of benefits are available in states with joblessness of 7 percent or higher. In states where unemployment is 9 percent or higher, another 10 weeks of benefits are available.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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