Unemployment extension splits Missouri's senators
Posted on January 8, 2014 12:00 pm CST
By: Deirdre Shesgreen
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WASHINGTON — Democrats won a surprise victory Tuesday in their quest to pass a short-term extension of unemployment benefits in a vote that divided Missouri’s two senators.
The bill would reinstate the lapsed unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless — people out of work more than 26 weeks — for an additional three months.
In Missouri, more than 21,000 people lost their benefits on Dec. 28.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., voted for the measure, along with 51 other Democrats, the Senate’s two independents and six Republicans.
“This economic recovery continues to move in the right direction as we see more jobs being created and more good economic activity — but we’re not out of the woods yet,” McCaskill said in a statement Tuesday.
“There are too many folks still struggling to get back to work, and instead of trying to weaken a critical safety net for those families, Congress needs to focus on finding common ground on solutions to further boost job and business opportunities.”
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was among the 37 Republicans voting against the bill. He argued that it would make more sense to focus on job-growth measures than extending unemployment benefits.
“In order to boost the economy and reduce unemployment, we must pass pro-growth policies that help create more jobs,” Blunt said in a tweet on Tuesday.
“Continuing to extend unemployment insurance beyond what states normally pay for is neither a plan nor a policy,” Blunt tweeted.
Despite the bipartisan vote of 60 to 37, the measure faces additional hurdles in the Senate, as well as significant opposition in the GOP-controlled House.
Even some Senate Republicans who voted in favor of the bill suggested that they might not support final passage unless the $6.4 billion cost of the measure was paid for by spending reductions, among other conditions.
Democrats said they were open to looking for ways to pay for the bill, but warned that it could be difficult to find an offset that could win bipartisan support.
The measure’s fate in the House is also murky.
Keith Beardslee, a spokesman for Rep. Billy Long, R-Springfield, said his boss wanted to see the Senate act on House-passed jobs bills before he could support an extension in unemployment benefits.
“If the Senate would get serious about passing some of the myriad jobs bills passed by the House, then extending benefits beyond 99 weeks wouldn’t be an issue,” Beardslee said.
“Simply rubber stamping and passing a multibillion-dollar extension is not the answer when we’re growing our massive debt daily.”
Similarly, a spokesman for Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, said the congresswoman believes the best way to help out-of-work Americans is to spur job creation, such as a House-passed proposal to revamp federal job training programs.
“It is time for the Senate to stop playing politics with common sense legislation by passing these bills and helping put Americans back to work,” she said.
Beardslee’s statement echoes the position of GOP leaders. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement Tuesday that he remains open to an extension — but only if it includes some GOP job-growth proposals.
He and others cited, for example, a controversial proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, and the SKILLS Act, which would revamp federal job training programs.
“One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work,” Boehner said.
“To date, the president has offered no such plan,” the speaker said.
“If he does, I’ll be happy to discuss it, but right now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America’s unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job.”