By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 22, 2010; 5:59 PM
President Obama on Thursday signed a six-month extension of emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, hours after the House approved the measure on a vote of 272 to 152.
The bill will revive a program that provides income support to those who have exhausted state benefits, restoring aid to nearly 3 million people who have seen their checks cut off since the program expired June 2. It would provide a total of up to 99 weeks of support, including the state aid. Advocates for the unemployed said checks in some states are likely to go out quickly; in others, people can expect a delay of several weeks.
With unemployment at 9.5 percent, both parties agreed that aid should be extended to people who have lost their jobs. But until the Senate passed it on Wednesday, the legislation was mired for months in an increasingly bitter election-year battle over whether the government should add to an already bloated national debt to bolster the sluggish economic recovery.
Republicans said no, saying that the nation should pay for the $34 billion extension with unexpended funds from last year's economic stimulus package.
"I haven't heard anybody say we shouldn't be extending unemployment benefits. The difference is one side wants to borrow 34 cents on the dollar, mainly from the Chinese, and send the bill to our children and our grandchildren," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.).
Democrats argued that emergency benefits have never been paid for -- even during the Reagan administration -- and accused Republicans of trying to undermine public faith in the Obama administration.
"They'll say it's because of the deficit. But in reality, they're simply trying to make this president fail at any cost," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who accused the GOP of trying to "infect" voters with "fiscal fear."
"The Republican leadership in Congress has decided that the way to get the White House back is by denying unemployment benefits to people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and show them that this government doesn't work," he said.
The extension was first introduced in a nearly $200 billion package of a variety of other economic measures sought by the Obama administration, including fresh aid to state governments and extended health insurance subsidies for the unemployed. Republicans blasted the spending plan, and conservative Democrats revolted, demanding that the package be scaled back.
Democratic leaders spent the next two months tossing various items overboard until nothing was left but the least controversial bit of spending: income support for unemployed workers. Democrats downsized even that program, dropping a $25-a-week bonus for all jobless workers that had been enacted under last year's stimulus package.
Even as the House approved the jobless bill, the Senate was wrestling with what may be the final item on the president's economic agenda for this year -- a package of small-business tax incentives. To draw Republican support, however, Democrats offered late Wednesday to cut out the heart of the package: a $30 billion fund to increase small-business lending.