Democrats Will Push to Extend Unemployment Benefits

Posted February 27, 2010 at 9:48am

Senate Democrats will resume their push to extend unemployment benefits next week after repeated attempts to pass a short-term fix were denied by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.).

Democrats continued hammering the issue in a flood of press releases Friday, blasting Bunning for denying the passage of short-term extensions to various unemployment programs. Members were expected to carry the message through the weekend, charging Republicans, and specifically Bunning, for obstructing.

“This obstruction has serious consequences for the millions of unemployed Americans who count on these benefits to get them through these difficult times,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement.

Because Democrats were unable to pass a short-term extension package this week, they will turn to a separate, longer-term measure on Monday.

The yearlong extenders package includes reauthorizations to unemployment and COBRA insurance programs and a set of tax extenders sought by Republicans and other provisions. The measure could be on the floor all of next week and perhaps the following, meaning that various unemployment programs will remain unfunded for several days.

The Senate is also scheduled to interrupt its consideration of the longer-term extension Tuesday when Members cast their first vote of the week — on the nomination of Barbara Milano Keenan to serve on the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. A procedural vote on her nomination is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. Tuesday. If cloture is reached and all debate time is used, the chamber will vote on Keenan’s confirmation Wednesday night, freeing up the floor for the Senate to return to the extenders package.

The House is facing a three-day workweek, but Democratic leaders hope to find the time — and, more importantly, the support — to clear the $15 billion jobs package the Senate approved on Wednesday. They were still mulling the path forward for that measure on Friday, after separate revolts from fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats, the Congressional Black Caucus and members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee forced them to scrap a plan to pass the Senate bill as-is.

Aides to moderate Democrats said they expect the bill will be tweaked to make sure it is fully funded, satisfying the concerns of Blue Dogs.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) met Friday morning with Reid, and is continuing to push large, direct spending programs to hire people instead of simply providing a few small tax cuts.

“We still want to have a comprehensive jobs bill,” she said. “The recession is taking its toll on people,” she said, citing sky-high unemployment figures, particularly in minority communities and among the young.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.), co-chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also said the package needs to be more robust. “They didn’t have the votes,” she said of the Senate’s $15 billion package. “They didn’t have my vote.”

Congress’ focus on jobs is also expected to dominate the Sunday shows, with a handful of Members scheduled to blanket the airwaves to discuss the economy and health care. Congressional leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) are all scheduled to appear on the networks this weekend, and will discuss both the jobs agenda and the seven-hour-long health care summit held by the White House earlier this week.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.