By Walter Alarkon - 10/20/09 11:59 PM EDT
GOP senators said they could back the extension, but only after having an opportunity to offer a number of amendments.
Since early October, Senate Democrats have been looking to quickly push through a bill that would extend jobless benefits by at least 14 weeks. But Republicans have blocked the immediate consideration of the bill on the Senate floor, objecting because the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has yet to score it and because a voice vote would preclude GOP amendments.
Tired of GOP objections, a dozen Democratic senators held a Tuesday news conference at which they accused Republicans of obstructionism.
“I know they have a right to debate amendments on ACORN or any other issues,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.). “But not today, not on this bill and not when 7,000 people each day are getting their safety net pulled out from under them and their families.”
ACORN has been in the hot seat since early September after two of the group’s workers were caught on tape giving advice to conservative activists, who were posing as a pimp and a prostitute.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that a number of GOP senators have said publicly they support extending the benefits.
“Why are the Republicans holding up this bill?” Schumer said. “Don’t they understand the anguish of millions of American families who need the help?”
The debate over the jobless benefits extension comes as Congress and the Obama administration look at a number of economic recovery measures to augment the $787 billion stimulus. Though economic growth is expected this fall for the first time since 2007, the White House and economists expect the jobless rate to remain around 10 percent into next year. Administration officials have said that President Barack Obama understands that more needs to be done to create jobs.
To help struggling Americans, lawmakers from both parties have expressed support for extending stimulus provisions that are set to expire within months, including the first-time homebuyer’s tax credit and increased COBRA health benefits for the unemployed. The administration and lawmakers have also looked at providing a tax credit to companies for new hires.
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) plans to offer an amendment that would expand the housing tax credit to most homeowners, but Democrats are reluctant to accept it. Though a number of Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), support it, proponents of the jobless benefits bill said that the homebuyer’s credit should be considered separately.
“I think that’s something that should be brought up, but now’s not the time, if it’s going to lead to delay and further denial of extended benefits for people across the country,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).
The jobless benefits bill would extend unemployment insurance by 14 weeks for those whose benefits are expiring this year. In 27 states whose unemployment rates exceed 8.5 percent, the unemployed would get a 20-week extension on their benefits.
The House version of the bill, which passed last month, would extend benefits by 13 weeks in states with the highest unemployment rates.
Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) dismissed Democratic suggestions that Republicans are the “party of no” for holding back support on the bill.
“I think when all is said and done, you’ll see a lot of support for unemployment extension. That’s not the issue,” Kyl told reporters. “The question is how you pay for it. The question is what is the score for it, and whether some other amendments will be allowed.”
Democrats plan to find the extra revenue by extending by 18 months the federal employment surtax, paid by employers and set to expire at the end of the year. The CBO expects the extension of jobless benefits to cost approximately $2.4 billion, according to a Democratic aide.
GOP senators, hoping to avoid a tax extension, are planning amendments that would pay for the prolonged jobless benefits by using bailout or stimulus money, according to a Senate Republican aide.