Senate Standoff Leaves Over 2 Million Unemployed Without Jobless Benefits

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

For millions of Americans left unemployed by the nation’s recession, getting a new job has proven extraordinarily difficult, but getting help from the government has not been any easier.

Six weeks after long-term jobless benefits lapsed on June 2, the Senate has yet to pass a measure restoring and extending the unemployment aid.

To date 2.1 million people have been affected, according to the National Employment Law Project. By the end of the month, that number will soar to 3.2 million people if Congress doesn’t act.

Democrats have tried on numerous occasions to get the bill through the Senate, most recently on June 30, when they fell only one vote short, a vote that could have come from Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia had he not passed away earlier in the week.

Now Majority Leader Harry Reid is preparing to take another stab at the measure, possibly next week.

“Another step we’ll take this month is a long-overdue one: extending emergency unemployment insurance for so many who have been out of work for so long,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday when lawmakers returned from their week-long Independence Day recess. “When millions of Americans lost their jobs, they lost their incomes, their homes, their savings, their gas money, their tuition payments, and on and on – all through no fault of their own. Democrats aren’t about to turn our backs on out-of-work Americans, which is why we’re trying to help them keep their heads above water in this crisis.”

The bill would restore and extend unemployment benefits through November 30, providing 99 weekly unemployment checks – at an average of $335 each – to people who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state-paid benefits.

Every Democrat except for Nebraska’s Ben Nelson has supported the bill, while all Republicans except for Maine senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have opposed it. Republicans have said they support extending the benefits, but only if the measure is paid for. As it stands right now, the bill would add $34 billion to the government’s growing deficit, at a time when the nation’s rising red ink is becoming more and more of a concern on Capitol Hill.

“The only reason the unemployment extension has not passed is because our friends on the other side simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn’t add to the debt. That’s it,” said the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell on June 30.

White House adviser David Axelrod has accused Republicans of playing politics with the unemployment measure.

“At a time when there's one job vacancy for five unemployed workers looking for jobs, clearly we have a responsibility to do it,” Axelrod told ABC’s Jake Tapper Sunday on “This Week.” “The Republicans met that responsibility each time under President Bush when he asked to extend unemployment insurance. They ought to do it now. Let's not play politics with this issue.”

If Senate Democrats cannot convince Nelson or another Republican in addition to Snowe and Collins to back the bill, then they will have to wait until an interim replacement is sworn in for the late Sen. Byrd. Until then, jobless Americans will continue to look to their government for help, but thus far it has all been in vain.

- Matthew Jaffe

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