Debt issues rise to top during unemployment benefits debate

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had strong words for his Republican colleagues who spent the afternoon arguing that Democratic policies have put the country into a strained budgetary position. 

"We will continue on a short-term basis, we are going to continue to give you help,"Hoyer said. 

Rep. Charles BoustanyCharles William BoustanyLobbying world Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response Americans worried about retirement should look to employee ownership MORE (R-La.), leading GOP floor debate, said "there is a better way to do this and that is to pay for this extension."

When Boustany praised the cooperation between Republicans and Democrats to draw down budget deficits, leading to an eventual surplus during the Clinton administration, Hoyer walked back to the microphone and asked why that type of work didn't continue while President George W. Bush was in office. 

During the debate over an extension of unemployment benefits Republicans have argued reducing the federal government's debt should be a top priority. 

With the nation's unemployment rate at 9.5 percent, Democrats have urged treating the bill as emergency spending. 

Senate Republicans balked at the idea, suggested the use of unspent stimulus money, and held up the bill for more than six weeks while as many as 350,000 people a week lost benefits. 

The measure passed the Senate on Wednesday night 59-39 with two Republicans — Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate Gang of Four to meet next week on immigration Republicans agree — it’s only a matter of time for Scott Pruitt Skyrocketing insulin prices provoke new outrage MORE and Olympia Snowe of Maine — supporting the measure. 

The bill, which is expected to be signed quickly by President Obama, provides up to 99 weeks of benefits in the states with the highest unemployment rates. The long-term jobless in every state are eligible for the benefits once state benefits run out after 26 weeks. 

Lawmakers will face the question again November, when this bill expires, on whether to provide another extension, for how long and if there's a way to pay for it. 

One of the largest problems facing the economy is a lack of job creation — again with each party blaming the other for the economy's issues. 

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday, "In all likelihood, a significant amount of time will be required to restore the nearly 8 1/2 million jobs that were lost over 2008 and 2009."

The Fed expects the unemployment rate to remain above 9 percent and possibly between 9.2 and 9.5 percent through the end of 2010. 

"Moreover, nearly half of the unemployed have been out of work for more than six months. Long-term unemployment not only imposes exceptional near-term hardships on workers and their families, it also erodes skills and may have long-lasting effects on workers' employment and earnings prospects."

On today's bill there were 31 Republicans supporting and 10 Democrats opposing. 

The 10 Democrats opposing, including nine members of 54-member fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, were:  Reps. Marion Berry (Ark.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), Bobby Bright (Ala.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.) Glenn Nye, (Va.), Betsy Markey (Colo.), Walt Minnick (Idaho) and Mike McIntyre (N.C.).

Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) is the only Democratic lawmaker voting against the measure who isn't a Blue Dog. 

For Republicans, six members of the Florida delegation and four from Michigan and Pennsylvania backed the bill. 

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