WASHINGTON Senate Republicans blocked legislation Tuesday that would have given an extra three months of jobless benefits for all unemployed Americans, but congressional Democrats plan to bring the bill back by attaching it to an Iraq war funding measure.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to bring the House-passed unemployment extension bill up for quick consideration in the Senate, but was stymied by an objection from Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the Senate's No. 2 Republican. It takes unanimous agreement to fast track a bill in the Senate.
The House on Thursday passed legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for workers who exhaust their regular 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. States with an unemployment rate of 6 percent or more would get an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits.
Kyl noted that the House bill would eliminate a requirement that people work 20 weeks before receiving unemployment benefits, "something I don't think we want to change."
"So as a result, we would like to have the Senate weigh in and make sure that if this is done, it is done in the right way," he said.
The White House also has threatened to veto the House's legislation if it makes it through the Senate, preferring legislation that would only extend unemployment benefits in states with high unemployment.
House Democrats said 10 percent of the unemployed would not get unemployment benefits if the 20-week provision was not deleted.
Reid said House Democrats will resurrect the legislation by adding it to the must-pass Iraq war funding bill Congress will consider later this year. "This, I believe, will be in the package we get from the House," Reid said.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that if the House bill became law, about 3.2 million Americans would collect $11.7 billion in extended unemployment benefits over the life of the extension.
Congress has extended unemployment benefits during periods that turned out to be recessions: twice in the 1970s, again in the early 1980s and 1990s, and most recently from March 2002 through December 2003.
"It's unfortunate that the Senate was stopped from even considering a bill to give a little more help to hurting folks all across this country," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont. "Unemployment numbers are at unacceptable levels, and this unemployment insurance bill is a commonsense response to the real problems that working families are facing in these tough economic times."