Ex­ten­sion of job­less aid clears hur­dle; Obama sig­na­ture ex­pected this week

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Carl Hulse

WASHINGTON — The Se­nate cleared the way Tues­day for fi­nal pas­sage of a bill to ex­tend long-stalled job­less ben­e­fits to an es­ti­mated 2.5 mil­lion peo­ple, as it voted 60-40 to halt the of­ten bit­ter par­ti­san stale­mate that has stymied the pop­u­lar pro­gram.

The vote limited Se­nate de­bate and vir­tu­ally as­sured that Congress will ap­prove the mea­sure, prob­a­bly to­day. The House was ex­pected to give quick fi­nal ap­proval, fol­lowed by the sig­na­ture of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama this week.

Obama’s sig­na­ture will al­low mil­lions of peo­ple to re­ceive ben­e­fits that were cut off in early June, when Congress did not ex­tend the pro­gram. The mea­sure will al­low ben­e­fits to

con­tinue through Nov. 30.

Min­utes af­ter Carte Good­win was sworn in as the new Demo­cratic sen­a­tor from West Vir­ginia to re­place the late Robert Byrd, the Se­nate voted 60-40 to break a par­ti­san log­jam and end de­bate over the job­less pay, over­rid­ing Repub­li­can ob­jec­tions that the $34 bil­lion costs of the ad­di­tional com­pen­sa­tion shouldn’t be added to the deficit.

“One vote made a dif­fer­ence to­day for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who have been out of work wait­ing for their un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits,” Sen. Jeanne Sha­heen, D-N.H., said about Good­win’s ar­rival to cast his de­ci­sive vote.

Even af­ter the vote, Democrats ac­cused Repub­li­cans of need­lessly stalling the bill by us­ing pro­ce­dural pow­ers to de­lay the vote by a day rather than al­low fi­nal con­sid­er­a­tion Tues­day. Only two Repub­li­cans, Sens. Su­san Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, joined 56 Democrats and two in­de­pen­dents in mus­ter­ing the min­i­mum num­ber re­quired to ad­vance the plan. Sen. Ben Nel­son of Ne­braska was the only Demo­crat to vote with 39 Repub­li­cans against the bill.

Repub­li­cans said they sup­ported pro­vid­ing more job­less pay for strug­gling Amer­i­cans but ar­gued that the costs should be off­set with spend­ing cuts else­where to avoid adding to ris­ing fed­eral deficits. They pro­posed that money not yet spent from last year’s eco­nomic stim­u­lus plan be used to cover the costs.

“When given the op­tion to pay for these ben­e­fits with un­used stim­u­lus funds, the pres­i­dent and con­gres­sional Democrats chose adding to the coun­try’s red ink over fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Democrats ar­gued that di­vert­ing stim­u­lus money would weaken fed­eral ef­forts to cre­ate jobs for the peo­ple they were help­ing with the un­em­ploy­ment pay.

They said un­em­ploy­ment pay of­ten had been treated as an emer­gency need free of any deficit con­sid­er­a­tions.

Democrats blasted away on the Se­nate floor Tues­day as Sen. Sher­rod Brown, D-Ohio, read parts of letters from four con­stituents who were fac­ing hard times.

He quoted “Richard from Sum­mit County,” who wrote, “I just hate what this coun­try’s be­come, where sen­a­tors can’t re­late to us com­mon folks. Is there any hope for us?”

“The an­swer to Richard is ‘yes,’ ” Brown said.

About 2 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have seen their ben­e­fits run out since the leg­is­la­tion stalled at the end of May. The dif­fi­culty that Democrats had in mov­ing ahead with what has tra­di­tion­ally been a pop­u­lar vote has forced the lead­er­ship to scale back ex­pec­ta­tions for what it can yet ac­com­plish this year given the re­quire­ment to pro­duce at least 60 votes in the Se­nate on ev­ery bill.

Be­fore break­ing for their Au­gust re­cess, con­gres­sional lead­ers now hope to wrap up the un­em­ploy­ment aid, an­other bill to pro­vide loans and in­cen­tives to help small busi­nesses and an over­due mea­sure to pro­vide money for com­bat op­er­a­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But many law­mak­ers say they be­lieve the main leg­isla­tive ac­tion of the first half of Obama’s term is ap­proach­ing an end. Al­though Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., also hopes to de­bate an en­ergy mea­sure, he ac­knowl­edged Tues­day that his plans for the bill were in flux even as oth­ers said there was not enough time to take a se­ri­ous run at a com­pre­hen­sive en­ergy pro­posal.

“We’re go­ing to make a de­ci­sion in the near fu­ture,” Reid said. “We’re not re­ally at a point where I can de­ter­mine what I think is best for the cau­cus and the coun­try at this stage.”

To most Democrats, the un­em­ploy­ment pay was a pri­or­ity, given the per­sis­tently bad em­ploy­ment out­look back home. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, ac­cused Repub­li­cans of a “shame­ful ef­fort” to hold up the un­em­ploy­ment aid, bristling at sug­ges­tions by some Repub­li­cans and con­ser­va­tive al­lies that the stream of job­less money was keep­ing peo­ple from seek­ing jobs.

“There’s one job for five to eight peo­ple out there, and to say some­how by giv­ing them $15,000 a year, $300 a week, this is go­ing to keep them from go­ing to work,” Harkin said. “Pre­pos­ter­ous. Ab­so­lutely pre­pos­ter­ous.”

Repub­li­cans said their po­si­tion was be­ing mis­char­ac­ter­ized by Democrats, who they said were forced to ex­tend un­em­ploy­ment pay be­cause their ef­forts at job cre­ation had failed.

“The peo­ple in this coun­try are not look­ing for those govern­ment-driven so­lu­tions,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “Most of them are look­ing for govern­ment to get out of the way, to back off so that they have that abil­ity to cre­ate those jobs.”

Good­win, who at 36 be­came the new­est and youngest mem­ber of the Se­nate, made a no­table en­try, tak­ing the oath of of­fice from Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den on Tues­day af­ter­noon and then quickly pro­vid­ing the clinch­ing vote for the stalled un­em­ploy­ment pay.

Good­win, who is to serve un­til a spe­cial elec­tion in Novem­ber, said he felt priv­i­leged that his first vote was one “that helps mil­lions of Amer­i­cans and over 12,000 West Vir­gini­ans who are still look­ing for work.”

By ex­tend­ing the un­em­ploy­ment aid, Congress will re­move one po­ten­tial drag on the econ­omy, an­a­lysts say.

“It re­duces the like­li­hood of a dou­ble-dip re­ces­sion,” said Gus Faucher, an econ­o­mist at Moody’s An­a­lyt­ics.

Job­less aid is widely seen as pro­vid­ing more “bang for the buck” than many other stim­u­lus pro­grams.

“It re­cy­cles very quickly into the econ­omy,” said David Wyss, chief econ­o­mist at Stan­dard & Poor’s. “If that’s your only source of money, you’re go­ing to spend it.”

Moody’s An­a­lyt­ics es­ti­mates that ev­ery dol­lar of un­em­ploy­ment aid gen­er­ates $1.61 in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity.

Still, that trans­lates into a boost of only $54 bil­lion — less than one-half of 1 per­cent of the over­all econ­omy.

“It’s not go­ing to make or break” the re­cov­ery, Faucher said.

J. Scott Applewhite

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led Democrats, plus two Repub­li­cans and two in­de­pen­dents, in vot­ing for the added ben­e­fits.

Alex Bran­don

Sen. Carte Good­win, D-W.Va., was sworn in Tues­day to re­place the late Sen. Robert Byrd. His vote was the one needed to break a par­ti­san log­jam and end de­bate over ex­tend­ing un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

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