WASHINGTON — It's been about six weeks since funding for extended jobless benefits expired, and by the end of this week, an estimated 2.5 million people will have lost federal aid.
Although Congress returned Tuesday from a 10-day Fourth of July break, those jobless workers will have to wait a little longer before they get help.
A new vote is expected, but probably not until next week, when a new senator from West Virginia is expected to be seated — and provide the 60th vote Democrats need under Senate rules to move the measure forward.
Meantime, the months-long debate keeps raging. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told colleagues Monday evening about a Nevada man who "will not get rich off his unemployment check, but it might help him keep a roof over his head."
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Republicans such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, saw the issue differently.
"I didn't hear a word back home about this," he said Tuesday. "People in Utah are independent. They're more concerned about deficit spending and how this country is going bankrupt."
Money for extended benefits began running out in early June. Since then, Republicans and moderate Democrats balked out of concern that more benefits would increase the federal deficit. Lawmakers from lower-unemployment areas didn't feel much urgency. Conservatives also insisted that an extension of benefits would discourage people from seeking jobs.
A breakthrough is expected shortly. Senate Democrats last month fell one vote short of cutting off extended debate on a $33.9 billion, six-month extension. The party controls 58 seats, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is expected to name a successor to the late West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd by early next week.
Supporters of extending benefits expect their new colleague will be the 60th vote. Two Republicans, Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, sided with the Democrats last month, while Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., voted with the GOP. If the Senate passes the bill, it would need approval by the House of Representatives, and that's expected quickly.