Jobless benefits extension likely

WASHINGTON — After weeks of partisan struggle that caused more than 400,000 people to miss unemployment checks, a bill restoring those benefits is on track to pass the Senate as early as today.

The $18 billion measure would provide additional weeks of jobless benefits averaging $335 a week to people whose six months of state-paid benefits have run out. It's a temporary extension through June 2 that gives House and Senate Democrats time to iron out a measure funding the program for the long-term jobless through the end of the year.

With help from a single Republican, George Voinovich of Ohio, Democrats by a 60-40 vote beat back a challenge from Republicans seeking to force them to pay for the measure with new revenues or cuts in spending rather than adding costs to the $12.8 trillion national debt.

Several other programs have lapsed as well, which has meant that newly jobless people can't sign up for federal health insurance subsidies and prompted the government to delay Medicare payments to doctors rather than imposing a 21 percent cut. Democrats protested that people living in flood plains can't sign up for flood insurance or renew their policies, which has delayed mortgage lending and home sales.

Wednesday's key vote appears to have set the stage for the Senate to pass the bill today, which would give the House time to pass the measure this week — and prevent even more people from losing benefits next week.

Democrats had earlier lost the vote because Patrick Leahy of Vermont was in his home state attending a funeral, but he returned and Democrats prevailed on a re-vote.

Specifically at issue in Wednesday's votes was whether to permit the measure to be financed by adding to the national debt. Under Senate rules, a successful GOP challenge could have required the chamber to come up with ways to pay for the measure.

Additional weeks of jobless benefits have traditionally been routinely extended during times of high unemployment and have previously always been paid for by adding to the national debt.