Republicans block Senate action on extending jobless benefits

Feb. 6, 2014 at 3:37 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The White House slammed Senate Republicans Thursday after they blocked a third attempt to extend unemployment benefits.

Democrats fell two votes short of the 60 needed to end debate.

"It is disappointing that Republicans in the Senate chose to again deny emergency unemployment insurance for 1.7 million Americans who need this vital lifeline to support their families as they actively search each and every day for a job," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. " ... Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable -- especially given the high long-term unemployment rate.

"Republicans in Congress need to allow this bill to have an up or down vote and remove this needless drag on our economy and American families," Carney said.

The vote was 58-40, with Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire joining Democrats, the Hill reported.

A three-month extension was blocked in January after Republicans demanded the $6.5 billion cost be offset in the budget, and an 11-month extension that was fully paid for by extending sequestration for an additional year was also blocked.

The Hill said Democrats vowed to use the Republican refusals as an issue in the midterm elections.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, also raked the Republican refusal.

"It is disgraceful that once again, a minority of senators -- all Republicans -- have filibustered a vote on extending federal unemployment insurance for nearly 1.7 million long-term unemployed workers struggling to get by in this harsh winter without this vital lifeline of support. Although this is the second time that all of their conditions for renewing the program have been met, and a strong bipartisan majority of senators wants to vote on a plan that would provide a fully-paid-for short-term renewal of benefits, the minority continues to block the vote, all the while saying they want to help those struggling with long-term unemployment. Talk is cheap and in this case, the minority's actions speak volumes."

An estimated 1.3 million people who have been out of work for at least six months were left without unemployment benefits when the long-term benefits program expired Dec. 28. Since then, 72,000 have been added to the total each week.

Democrats say the long-term coverage is needed because nearly 38 percent of unemployed workers have been out of work for at least 27 weeks, the Hill reported.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., delayed a morning vote on a debate limit until Thursday afternoon.

Roll Call said the delay should allow Iowa Republican Charles E. Grassley to return to the Capitol for the vote. Grassley had been absent due to the death of his sister. He last missed a roll call vote while touring flood damage in Iowa with President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The jobless benefits under consideration would have been paid for with an extension of "pension smoothing," which allows companies to reduce deductible pension contributions, Roll Call said.

Reid also said Thursday senators are working to set up a vote to confirm Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., as the next ambassador to China before leaving for the week, the newspaper reported.

Republican aides said quick action on Baucus should be seen as a case of old-school courtesy, not an easing of party tensions.

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