Senate votes to take up jobless benefit extension
The Associated Press, November 3, 2009
Washington (AP) — After weeks of political haggling, the Senate agreed Tuesday to take up legislation that would give people running out of unemployment insurance benefits up to 20 more weeks of federal aid.
Senate Democrats, saying that 7,000 people a day are exhausting their benefits, called on their colleagues to move quickly to a final vote. Republicans insisted they get a chance to offer amendments on the benefit bill and other issues.
Also in play was the possibility the bill would be used as a vehicle to extend another policy that has been central to the Obama administration's efforts to revive the economy: an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.
The vote was 87-13 to bring the bill to the floor. Sixty votes were needed to pass that procedural hurdle.
The legislation would provide 14 weeks in extra financial aid for everyone exhausting their benefits by the end of the year, and another six weeks for those living in 27 states where the unemployment rate is at least 8.5 percent.
The White House issued a statement in support of extending benefits. 'Helping unemployed workers is an effective way to boost the economy and an important part of the administration's broader efforts to move swiftly and aggressively to jump start job creation and grow our economy.'
The House passed a less generous benefit extension more than a month ago, but Senate Republicans, at odds with Democrats over what amendments they can offer to the bill, have blocked Senate consideration.
As the Senate voted, Senate leaders were still trying to reach agreement on a formula to extend the homebuyer credit and whether it would be combined with the unemployment bill or brought up separately.
Various proposals are on the table, including one by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., that would extend the $8,000 tax credit through March 31. The value of the credit would then drop to $6,000, $4,000 and then $2,000 over the next three quarters. Another idea would extend the tax credit to home buyers who already own homes, as long as they have been in those homes for at least seven years.
Democrats are also mulling a plan to extend the ability of money-losing businesses to claim refunds on taxes paid during profitable times up to four years ago.
Republicans, meanwhile, were demanding that they be given a chance to offer amendments on federal aid to the beleaguered community activist group ACORN and on requiring that people receiving unemployment insurance be processed through E-Verify, an Internet-based system that employers use to check on the immigration status of new hires.
Democrats, in floor speeches and news conferences, have voiced frustrations at the delay. 'If the American people knew that legislation to help jobless workers pay their bills and purchase necessities was being held up to score political points, they would be outraged,' said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., a leader on the unemployment benefit issue.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., calculated that in the three weeks that action on the bill has been stalled nearly 150,000 people have lost their benefits. 'To say that I am disappointed is an understatement.'
The states normally provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, with payments of about $300 a week. Since the beginning of the recession, the federal government has chipped in with added help, and the jobless in those states hardest hit by the economic downturn are now entitled to up to 79 weeks.
Supporters of another extension point out that up to 2 million people are going to run out of benefits by the end of the year and that despite some signs of economic recovery there is still only about one job available for every six job seekers. The unemployment rate is now 9.8 and is expected to top 10 percent before companies begin rehiring.
'A positive GDP is not the answer for people who are looking for work unsuccessfully,' said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. 'They need the benefits of extended unemployment compensation.'
The extended benefits would be paid for by dedicating money from the federal unemployment tax, a payroll tax companies pay for individual employees.