Republican Coburn Blocks Jobless Benefits Extension

Republican Coburn Blocks Jobless Benefits Extension (Update1)

March 26, 2010, 1:51 PM EDT

(Adds National Employment Law Project estimate in fourth paragraph.)

By Brian Faler

March 26 (Bloomberg) — Senate Republicans blocked an extension of unemployment benefits for the second time in recent weeks because the cost would be added to the government’s $1.5 trillion budget deficit.

Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, yesterday prevented the chamber from passing a $9 billion measure to extend aid for a month as lawmakers prepared to leave for a two- week recess.

Lawmakers are unlikely to work out a deal by the time benefits begin expiring for some of the unemployed on April 5, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.

Manley said lawmakers likely will approve the extension, with retroactive benefits, when they return to the Capitol in mid-April. Approximately 212,000 Americans will see their unemployment checks interrupted for each week the legislation is stalled, according to the New York-based National Employment Law Project.

“The time for hard choices is now” because “continuing on our path of borrowing and spending without restraint will lead us off a financial cliff,” Coburn said. He said the extension of benefits should be paid for with savings elsewhere in the budget.

House Democrats

Coburn blamed House Democratic leaders for the impasse, saying they refused to go along with a tentative agreement between Senate Republicans and Democrats to pass a short-term extension that wouldn’t add to the deficit. Lawmakers should postpone their vacation to work out a solution, he said.

Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said lawmakers “need to fight the deficit, but let’s not do it at the expense of the neediest people in America” when “the only thing that keeps them going, that keeps the lights on and the food on the table, is the unemployment check.”

Senator Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, in late February blocked a previous extension of jobless benefits for several days because of its cost.

The legislation being held up by Coburn includes $1 million to provide lost pay to 2,000 Transportation Department workers who were briefly furloughed because of Bunning’s objections.

The measure also would prevent scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Lawmakers have used the temporary extensions to provide time to debate a measure providing jobless benefits through the rest of this year.

Senate rules allow any individual lawmaker to temporarily block legislation from coming to a vote. Those objections can be overcome though the process typically takes several days.

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