Senate Republicans Block Jobless Benefits to Protest Adding $9 Billion Cost to National Debt
The clash comes less than a month after Republicans abandoned a similar battle that led to an interruption in unemployment benefits eligibility for some people and a two-day furlough for some Transportation Department employees.
A stopgap bill that passed early this month extends unemployment insurance for people who have been out of a job for more than six months, provides health insurance subsidies for the jobless and protects doctors from a sharp cut in Medicare payments.
The short-term extension of the jobless benefits is needed while House and Senate Democrats work through negotiations on a long-term measure that would provide them through the end of the year. Those talks have slowed, prompting Democrats to move to extend benefits for an additional month.
Last month, Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., blocked a similar extension of jobless benefits, but Republicans ended up on the losing end of a public relations battle and Bunning backed away.
Now, it's Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who's insisting that the measure be "paid for" so as not to add to the nation's $12.7 trillion debt.
"What we are doing is stealing future opportunity from our children," Coburn said.
Unlike the prior battle, there's no immediate danger of jobless people becoming ineligible for benefits. The programs don't expire until Wednesday, leaving time to work through the problem. But lawmakers are also antsy to go home for a two-week spring recess.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tried to move to legislation to extend the jobless benefits and other previsions, but the move was immediately quashed by Democrats. Democratic leaders say that jobless benefits are an emergency and don't need to conform to the new pay-as-you-go budget law, which requires new benefit programs to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases so they don't increase the deficit.
"We really believe that the unemployment situation is an emergency economic situation. Republicans do not accept that," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the majority whip. "They want to cut off unemployment benefits or pay for it with stimulus funds that are creating jobs."