Unemployed Americans face the prospect of a bleak holiday season after Republicans in the House of Representatives thwarted an expedited effort by Democrats to extend jobless benefits into next year.
The measure would have further extended jobless benefits enacted during the summer until the end of February at a cost of $12.5 billion. The legislation passed by a 258-154 vote, but failed to meet the two-thirds majority, or 275 votes, required to move the bill under so-called "fast-track" rules.
Republicans opposed the legislation because it wasn't paid for with unused funds from last year's economic stimulus program.
Dec. 1 Cutoff Looms
"The fact is, we can both provide this help and pay for it by cutting less effective stimulus spending," said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), the Associated Press reported. "That's what we should be debating today."
The White House was critical of Republican efforts to cut off jobless benefits as Congress also seeks to extend Bush-era tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans during the lame-duck session. "I don't think we want to leave here having fought for tax cuts for millionaires and against unemployment insurance for those that have lost their jobs," Obama administration spokesman Robert Gibbs said, according to the AP.
If Congress doesn't act quickly to extend benefits, some 2 million unemployed workers will stop receiving unemployment checks as of Dec. 1.
The federal extensions have given unemployed workers with an additional 73 weeks of benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks of coverage provided by states. So far this year, benefits extensions have helped 9.5 million households and pumped roughly $6.8 billion into the economy every month, according the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers-rights advocacy organization.
"Congress should. . .quickly reauthorize these programs to avoid a catastrophe right in the midst of the holiday season," said Christine Owens, NELP's executive director.
It remains unclear how lawmakers will act to extend the unemployment benefits, but they may resurface in a bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. However, it appears unlikely that Congress will be able to act in time to avoid the expiration of benefits on Nov. 30.
In past reauthorizations, lawmakers made the extensions retroactive, meaning unemployed workers would still receive the checks, but later rather than sooner.