The Senate Tuesday approved a procedural measure to move on with consideration of a three-month extension of federal unemployment benefits. It barely passed, avoiding a Republican filibuster by a vote of 60-37.
The vote, originally slated to take place Monday night, was postponed because more than a dozen senators were unable to make it back to Washington due to severe weather. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to delay until today the vote that would help restore the federal emergency unemployment benefits program, which expired at the end of last year.
"Failing to restore emergency assistance would not only be a crushing blow to the long-term unemployed, it would be a blow to our economy," Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Americans use their unemployment benefits to buy food and fuel at local gas stations, to pay the landlord or to purchase a child a winter coat at a local department store. That's why for every $1 we spend on unemployment insurance, the economy grows by $1.50."
Many Republicans oppose extending the benefits, saying the country cannot incur more expenses without offsetting the $6.4 billion with budget cuts elsewhere. They also say extending the safety net does nothing to actually help people find jobs.
"First and foremost, unemployment insurance is treating the symptoms of the problem," said Sen.Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. "It's an aspirin for a fever, but the fever has been raging for weeks now."
President Barack Obama said it "sells the American people short" to insinuate that recipients prefer unemployment insurance to finding a job. He called on Congress to pass the extension to "make things right."
"I can't name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check rather than the pride of having a job," Obama said. "There's still a lot of people who are struggling. And in fact if we don't provide unemployment insurance, it makes it harder for them to find a job." Regulations for receiving benefits require a person to actively be looking for employment.
Even if the Senate approves an extension, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said his chamber won't consider a similar measure without spending cuts to offset the cost.
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