Jobless pay expires for thousands

Congress on spring break while haggling continues

April 06, 2010|By Clement Tan | Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — — Even as unemployment benefits expired Monday for tens of thousands of jobless workers, Democrats and Republicans renewed their haggling over whether to vote for an extension when Congress returns from its spring break next week.

In the latest round of skirmishing, Senate Democrats rejected Republican charges that they had backed away from a GOP proposal to give quick approval to a one-week extension that would be paid for with budget offsets.

"There were a lot of conversations going on and things were moving very quickly, but no deals were made," said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada.

At the heart of the dispute over extending jobless benefits is the question of how to pay for them - through revenue increases or budget cuts.

Two weeks ago, when the Senate took up the question, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn objected that the $9 million measure already approved by the House would add to the federal deficit.

Coburn's objection was similar to the one Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., raised last month over another extension that was not offset. But unlike before, failure to extend the benefits that expired Monday meant 212,000 unemployed people will lose benefits this week, according to figures provided by the National Employment Law Project.

The GOP objection raised the specter of a filibuster and Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority.

Democrats in both the House and the Senate want the extension to be classified as "emergency spending," which can be added to the deficit and does not have to be paid for with specific cuts or new revenue.

"It is inexcusable and irresponsible for Republicans to once again block the extension of these benefits," Reid said in a statement.

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