Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Congress Passes Legislation To Assist Jobless, Despite Some Republican Opposition

The U.S. Senate passed and sent to President Barack Obama a bill to reinstate unemployment benefits for thousands after Republican Senator Jim Bunning ended his effort to block the measure because it added to the deficit.

The chamber voted 78 to 19 last night to approve the bill, which the House passed last week. All 19 Senate votes against the measure were cast by Republicans.

The bill will become law with Obama’s signature.

It would extend benefits for the jobless one month, including subsidies to help the unemployed buy health insurance, as well as postpone cuts in Medicare reimbursements in doctors. It would also release highway money, the delay of which forced the Transportation Department to furlough 2,000 employees.

The bill is designed to buy lawmakers time while they debate longer-term extensions of the programs.

Bunning relented in blocking the measure after coming under a drumbeat of criticism from Democrats as well as some Republicans who believed his efforts had become a political liability for their party.

Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said yesterday extension of the jobless benefits was “so important to senators on both sides of the aisle,” and that “numerous members of the Republican caucus” opposed Bunning’s stalling tactics.

“Today we have a clear-cut example to show the American people just what’s wrong with Washington, D.C.,” Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, said yesterday in pressing her party’s case against Bunning’s actions.

Obama ‘Grateful’

Obama, in a statement after last night’s vote, said he was “grateful to the members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle who worked to end this roadblock to relief for America’s working families.”

Bunning, who decided against seeking re-election this year, had been holding up a vote since Feb. 25 because the bill’s $10 billion cost would be added to the government’s $1.6 trillion deficit. Unemployment benefits for many expired Feb. 28 and the Labor Department said 400,000 could see aid cut within two weeks if Congress didn’t act. Bunning accused Democrats of ignoring their recently enacted anti-deficit budget rules known as pay-go.

“We must get our debt problem under control and there is no better time than now,” Bunning said on the Senate floor before last night’s vote. “That is why I have been down here demanding that this bill be paid for.”

Bunning agreed to allow the vote so long as he was promised separate consideration of his amendment to offset the cost of the legislation by closing a tax break for paper companies. His amendment was defeated on a procedural vote amid complaints by Democrats that its passage would force the House to again approve the legislation, which would further delay the extension of unemployment benefits and the other provisions.

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