Senate approves extension of unemployment benefits
By Shailagh Murray
The Senate voted to restore jobless benefits through early June on Thursday, ending a partisan showdown that had temporarily stopped the flow of unemployment checks to more than 200,000 Americans.
The standoff ended when three Republicans joined Democrats to pass the bill on a 59-38 vote. The House was expected to quickly approve the package, possibly as soon as Thursday night.
The $18 billion package also would resume Medicare payments to doctors and extend health coverage for unemployed individuals through the COBRA program. Unemployment checks will now flow through June 2, giving lawmakers time to negotiate a broader bill that could provide support to the unemployed for up to 99 weeks.
Republicans had unanimously opposed the latest extension because it lacks budget cuts to offset the cost. But Democrats countered that jobless benefits count as emergency economic assistance and should be treated as an exception.
"We should not balance the budget on the backs of unemployed Americans," said Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).
The three Republicans who broke ranks were Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio. All cited dire economic straits back home to explain their reversal. The most recent reports pegged the nation's unemployment rate at 9.7 percent.
Republicans failed to pass measures that would have paid for the bill, including through spending cuts and tax increases, and remained resolute in their conviction that voters are fed up with profligate federal spending habits.
"The American people are disgusted with Congress because we refuse to make the hard choices struggling families make every day," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who led the Republican opposition. "Our debt and deficits are as much of an emergency as unemployment, yet Congress continues to pretend it can spend and borrow without restraint."
April 15, 2010; 7:10 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Capitol Briefing
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