WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) -- The U.S. Senate agreed Tuesday to move forward with a
three-month extension of expired jobless benefits for the long-term
unemployed, which affects an estimated 1.3 million Americans.
Republicans voted with 54 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, which
includes two independents, to overcome a 60-vote threshold to begin
consideration of bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed,
D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev.
The bill would reinstate unemployment benefits that expired Dec. 28 because Congress failed to act before the holiday break.
STORY: After key vote, Obama calls on GOP to extend jobless benefits
Mark Begich, D-Alaska, was not present for the vote. Sen. Dan Coats,
R-Ind., surprised Democrats by providing the key vote to advance the
Most Republicans opposed the bill because the $6.4 billion
cost of the extension is not offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the
federal budget. Some Republicans also view the benefits as a deterrent
for recipients to look for jobs. Outside conservative groups, including
the anti-tax Club for Growth, also oppose the extension and urged
lawmakers to oppose it.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell,
R-Ky., was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., from
offering an amendment to delay for one year the requirement for
individuals to purchase health care under the Affordable Care Act in
exchange for GOP support.
Democrats argue that unemployment
benefits provide critical economic stimulus by boosting consumer
spending as well as much-needed relief to Americans who have found it
hardest to recover from the economic downturn and should not have to be
offset. "This is basic. This is humane," said Senate Majority Whip Dick
The next steps are uncertain. The Senate still has
to pass the bill, and it faces considerable opposition in the
GOP-controlled House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he
could consider an extension if the cost is offset by budget cuts
President Obama will keep pressure on Congress to act
at a White House event Tuesday with some of the Americans affected by
the benefits' expiration. Gene Sperling, the director of the National
Economic Council, defended the unemployment benefits program Monday as
critical to addressing lingering unemployment from the recession, and he
noted that the system not only requires recipients to look for work,
but is structured to taper off as unemployment rates fall.
Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was enacted under the George
W. Bush administration in 2008 to provide relief for the long-term
unemployed who had exhausted standard unemployment benefits.
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