Senate finally passes unemployment benefits extension

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (AP)

With a GOP filibuster safely broken, the Senate is poised to pass legislation restoring jobless benefits for millions of people unable to find work in the frail economic recovery.

Wednesday’s vote is a formality after the Democratic-controlled Senate voted 60-40 Tuesday to move ahead on the bill. The measure would then go to the House for one final vote and on to President Barack Obama later this week.
At issue are payments averaging $309 a week for almost 5 million people whose 26 weeks of state benefits have run out. Those people are enrolled in a federally financed program providing up to 73 additional weeks of unemployment benefits.

About half of those currently eligible have seen their benefits cut off since funding expired June 2. The jobless benefits are a lifeline to millions of people struggling to find work in what has so far been a largely jobless recovery.

“I can’t tell you how relieved we will be when Congress passes this. We have in Pennsylvania about 200,000 people who have lost their unemployment compensation coverage because of their inaction,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry Sandi Vito. “Folks need this money for their mortgages, for food, and so our goal is to get them their payments as quickly as possible.”

The filibuster-breaking vote came moments after Democrat Carte Goodwin was sworn in to succeed West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, who died last month at 92. Goodwin was the crucial 60th senator needed to defeat the Republican filibuster. The Senate gallery was packed with Goodwin supporters, who broke into applause as he cast his “aye” vote.
Republicans say they support the benefits extension. But with the exception of Maine GOP moderates Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, who voted with Democrats Tuesday, they insist any benefits be financed by cuts to programs elsewhere in the $3.7 trillion federal budget.

The election-year battle has been amplified by the White House and Democrats, who are emphasizing the plight of the unemployed while arguing that putting money in the pockets of jobless families would also boost economic revival.

“This bill is about jobs because unemployment insurance goes to people who will spend it immediately,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. “That would increase economic demand. And that would help support our fragile economic recovery.”
Many Republicans have voted in the past for deficit-financed benefits extension — including as recently as March and twice in 2008, during the Bush administration. But now they are casting themselves as standing against out-of-control budget deficits, a stand that’s popular with their core conservative supporters and the tea party activists whose support they’re courting in hopes of retaking control of Congress.

“We’ve repeatedly voted for similar bills in the past. And we are ready to support one now,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “What we do not support — and we make no apologies for — is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pass this bill at a time when the national debt is spinning completely out of control.”

The measure would reauthorize the extended benefits program through the end of November, providing payments to millions of people who’ve been out of work for six months or more. Maximum benefits in some states are far higher than the $309 a week nationwide average payment. In Massachusetts, the top benefit is $943 a week; in Mississippi, it is $235.

Tuesday’s action capped months of battling over the jobless benefits extension, which started in February as just one piece of a broader jobs package that included many other provisions, such as restoring expired business tax breaks and helping state governments pay their bills.

That broader measure advanced in fits and starts — including a measure that passed the Senate in March that would have added $100 billion to the deficit. But the sands shifted and it collapsed in June despite being cut back considerably.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., then pressed a bare-bones jobless benefits measure — only to fall one vote short because of Byrd’s death.

The White House has signaled it may seek another renewal of benefits in November if unemployment remains painfully high.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press

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5 Responses to "Senate finally passes unemployment benefits extension"

  1. griff  July 21, 2010 at 8:31 am

    “This bill is about jobs because unemployment insurance goes to people who will spend it immediately,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

    Ha! What the hell is this guy on? Yeah they’ll spend it at Wal-Mart buying cheap garbage that keeps some slave in China in shackles.

    The American Dream – begging for scraps.

    • woody188  July 21, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      I was thinking the same thing. It’s only going to help China/Asia and some agriculture. If they wanted to stimulate hiring here they would have to give it to arms dealers/manufacturers and McDonald’s. Can I get a McRaise?

      Quick way to stimulate industry in the USA. 2 year moratorium on all imported manufactured goods. That keeps Canada happy as our major energy supplier but will upset pretty much the rest of the world. It will take something that drastic to turn this ship around.

      • woody188  July 21, 2010 at 1:34 pm

        Check it: The Scariest Unemployment Graph I’ve Seen Yet

        “The median duration of unemployment is higher today than any time in the last 50 years. That’s an understatement. It is more than twice as high today than any time in the last 50 years.”

        This isn’t your fathers recession. This is not a recession at all. This is a depression and is accelerating. It took 2-3 years for the markets to fall during the Great Depression. If this started in 2008, where does that put us now?

  2. Damon Williams  July 21, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for the passage of this bill. As a former journalist with a ten-year tenure at a major Philadelphia newspaper that has declared bankruptcy, I can tell you that work in my field is very, very hard to come by.
    I don’t know if this qualifies as begging for scraps; I look at it as America, being the richest country in the world, doing right by its workers who are laid off due to the economic downturn that was not the proletariats’ doing.

  3. LORI HOPSON  July 22, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    my husband has been on unemployment and we don’t just go out and blow our money. we pay our bill’s one week we pay some bill’s and then again the next week and so on……. we have enogh money to just keep them from darkening our door way almost….. i’m thankful for our president he see’s us as real people with real problems. without unemployment my family would be living at a rest stop along the freeway. having a president like we do makes me proud to be an american with him watching out for americans family’s. after all he has one to.

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