Senate Dems restart campaign to extend unemployment benefits

Fourteen Senate Democrats signaled support for a bill that would extend many Americans' jobless benefits by at least 14 weeks — a necessary expansion, they said, that Republicans have so far obstructed.

The majority party has been trying to pass its unemployment insurance extension since September, but a number of setbacks kept the Senate from voting on the bill. But party leaders emphasized they hoped to rejuvenate that campaign this week, and Tuesday's press event was perhaps an attempt to convince GOP lawmakers to follow suit.

"We are facing opposition from the Republicans," Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said at a press conference on Monday. "They were quick to provide bailouts to Wall Street, but they fall at helping people on Main Street."

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Many workers who lost their jobs as a result of this year's economic meltdown are beginning to exhaust their maximum benefits, but the Senate's bill would lengthen eligibility another 14 weeks for those Americans. It would supply an additional six weeks of benefits for those workers in states with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent.

A similar effort passed the House earlier this year, but that bill only authorized an extension for those states with exceptionally high jobless numbers.

"The pending bill is a great bill," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who helped lead the charge to rewrite the House's effort before it reached the Senate. "It's one that will stimulate the economy. It's one that will help unemployed workers who are struggling to get back on their feet during this recession."

Senate Republicans seem to agree with the bill's purpose, but many have taken issue with its funding mechanism. GOP lawmakers said they would rather fund the effort using unspent stimulus dollars — rather than Democrats' proposed extension of an unemployment surtax — and they have since blocked consideration of the bill.

Democrats, however, are growing increasingly frustrated with the GOP's strategy -- a position a number of lawmakers at Tuesday's press conference also echoed.

"[Y]ou have Republicans in this town that must be captivated by some interest or some point of view that doesn't allow them to give us the chance to move this forward," said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.). "But I think they do that at their peril ... the reason they really should be doing this is because, in every state in this country, you see there's misery."