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Senate To Vote On Short-Term Unemployment Benefits This Week

March 1, 2010 - by Eric Naing

While health care reform moves to the back rooms for now, Congress is hoping to take floor action on a number of jobs-related bills this week including a temporary extension for unemployment benefits (H.R.4691) that was single-handedly blocked by Sen. Jim Bunning [R, KY].

The New York Times describes the jobs agenda for the week:

In the Senate, Democrats are scheduled to begin consideration of $31 billion in corporate tax breaks and an extension of added benefits and health insurance for the unemployed through the end of the year. At the same time, they will be trying to shake loose an interim monthlong benefits extension that is being held up by Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky.

Across the rotunda, the House Democratic leadership will be pushing ahead with the $15 billion jobs bill passed by the Senate last week in the hopes of getting it quickly to the president’s desk despite internal Democratic reservations.

Senate Republican whip Jon Kyl [R, AZ] predicted that the Senate would overcome Bunning’s objection and pass a stop-gap, 30-day extension this week.

Bunning last week prevented the Senate from acting on the short-term extension by withhold unanimous consent. His complaint was that Democrats had not come up with a way to pay for it. Under rules adopted by Democrats earlier this year, Congress must find the money to cover most of the new legislation it passes. But by defining the unemployment extensions as emergency spending, Democrats can skip the “pay-as-you-go” requirement.

But while all this political jockeying is going on, Bunning’s obstruction is having real consequences.

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network reports that hundreds of unemployed workers in Maine, as well as thousands more across the country, are wracked with worry about losing these benefits.

And in even more concrete terms, 2,000 federal workers will have to be furloughed:

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., didn’t just stop extensions of unemployment and health insurance benefits with his "hold” on these funding measures last week, he also stopped an extension of the Highway Trust Fund for 30 days. That means the fund cannot be used to pay for any of its programs or its employees.

So, the Department of Transportation as of Monday morning, furloughed 2,000 federal workers. DOT says that number could climb if this stalemate over funding drags on. Employees affected include federal inspectors overseeing highway projects on federal lands. If the inspectors aren’t there, the projects must shut down. DOT says that will affect 41 critical construction projects from Alaska to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And though Sen. Kyl was optimistic about the chances of a short-term extension, he predicted that Senate Republicans would not support a proposed one-year extension for those benefits ensuring that this drama will be replayed soon.

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