WASHINGTON — The House agreed Friday to extend expiring jobless benefits for hundreds of thousands of workers nationwide until Nov. 30, but 1.2 million out-of-work Americans still face losing their benefits next month because the Senate left for a 10-day Memorial Day recess without acting.
The Senate isn’t scheduled to return to Washington until June 7, five days after federal funding for the benefits is to expire.
Even when the Senate returns, quick action could be difficult. Friday’s 215-204 House vote on a package that includes tax changes for businesses sent an ominous signal about why approving the added jobless benefits has become so difficult.
Though Democratic leaders pushed the measure hard, 34 House Democrats — including Washington’s Jay Inslee and Adam Smith — joined 170 Republicans in voting no. One Republican, Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao of Louisiana, and 214 Democrats voted yes.
The bill passed with no provision for continuing federal health-care subsidies for unemployed workers, a provision that was cut from the legislation after Democratic moderates expressed concerns about what its cost would add to the federal budget deficit.
The House, by a 245-171 vote, also extended present Medicare reimbursements paid to doctors for 19 months, with small increases each year.
The measures would add a total of about $54.2 billion to the federal deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which estimates the deficit will reach about $1.5 trillion this fiscal year.
To keep moderates in line, Democrats also scuttled plans to provide more funding to states for Medicaid, the joint state-federal health-care program for lower-income people, some seniors and those with disabilities.
Even those changes failed to move many centrists, however.
“There are different attitudes in the country about how much we should be spending on unemployment insurance,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Members who are from low unemployment areas are very concerned about the deficit. Members who are from high unemployment areas are very concerned about the jobs.”
The legislation the House passed Friday extends a series of business tax breaks, such as a research tax credit, that were due to expire. Part of the package is paid for, notably by changing how multinational companies are taxed on foreign income, as well as “carried interest” earned by venture capitalists, hedge fund managers and others.
Friday was the third time this year that Congress has failed to meet the deadline for extending jobless benefits.
On the first two occasions, Republican senators blocked quick consideration, saying they wanted the programs paid for. This time, Republicans still objected, but it was centrist Democrats who were raising alarms. The original House plan would have spent nearly $200 billion and increased the deficit by $133.8 billion over the next 10 years.
The day in D.C.
Roadless forests: The Obama administration Friday extended for another year the moratorium on most logging and mining in millions of acres of remote and rugged backcountry sections of national forests. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he wants to continue to give decisions on projects in roadless areas a higher level of scrutiny while waiting for federal courts to resolve the legal issues.
Kentucky Senate race: Senate candidate Rand Paul, R-Ky., told a Russian TV station in a clip circulating on political websites Friday that he opposes citizenship for children born in the U.S. to parents who are illegal immigrants. Paul, who a week ago won the GOP primary, said he wants to block citizenship to those children. “We’re the only country I know that allows people to come in illegally, have a baby and then that baby becomes a citizen,” Paul told RT, an English-language station.
Hutchison’s future: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, hasn’t decided whether to retire at the end of 2012, and the possibility she’ll run again leaves a major question mark over the already competitive field of candidates lined up to replace her. After earlier declining to discuss her plans, she said this week she has set no deadline on whether to seek another six-year term.
Seattle Times news services