WASHINGTON (AP) - For the third time in as many weeks, Senate Republicans onWednesday successfully filibustered a bill to continue providingunemployment checks to millions of people.
But this time, since the slimmed-down measure attracted twoRepublican votes, its passage seems assured next month once areplacement is in place for Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who diedon Monday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a supporter of thebill, had to vote "nay" to take a procedural step that would allowfor a revote. Even though the tally stood at 58-38, Democrats werein reality just one vote short of the 60 needed to beat thefilibuster. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the sole Democratagainst the bill.
Immediately after the jobless aid vote, the Senate cleared forPresident Barack Obama's signature a measure to give homebuyers anextra three months to finish qualifying for federal tax incentivesthat boosted home sales last spring.
The jobless aid measure is one of the last remnants of theDemocrats' jobs agenda, which has largely fallen prey to GOPconcerns about the deficit. Although a hiring tax break passed inFebruary, ambitious plans for new road construction, incentives forso-called green jobs, and, more recently, funding for cash-starvedstate governments and local school districts are languishing in theface of Republican resistance.
Save for GOP moderates Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine,Republicans uniformly opposed the $33 billion jobless aid measurebecause its cost would be added to the nation's $13 trillionnational debt.
"The only reason the unemployment extension hasn't passed isbecause Democrats simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn't add tothe debt," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The House is slated to vote on a companion jobless aid measureon Thursday, though the Senate's action renders it a futile gestureas Congress gets ready to depart Washington for its cherished 4thof July recess.
Without an extension, 1.7 million of the 7 million people whohave been without a job for at least six months will have losttheir unemployment benefits by the end of this week, according tothe Labor Department.
"We have a basic responsibility to help our constituents respondto emergencies," said Reid. "We have a fundamental obligation notto deny them the help they need when they need it the most."
Obama has urged lawmakers to spend about $50 billion to helpstates pay for Medicaid programs and to avoid teacher layoffs, butDemocrats in Congress have been unable to come up with thevotes.
Governors made another plea Wednesday for money to help themavoid layoffs of state employees
"This is crucial for America and crucial to the citizens of ourstates," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said at a Washington, D.C.,news conference with governors from New York, Maryland, Washington,Kansas and Michigan.
Rendell said Pennsylvania stands to lose $850 million inMedicaid money. Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson said his state mighthave to lay off 3,600 teachers.
Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits asinsurance against the economy sliding back into recession. And mosteconomists say extending benefits for the unemployed is a good wayto stimulate the economy since the money is immediately recycledinto the economy.
"It means they've got money in their pocket for the localgrocery store, for the local gas station and the local hardwarestore," Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said. "It means more money inlocal economies and more job creation."
However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about addingto the growing national debt.
"No one's disputing the value of these very important programs,"said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. "But we also have to have toughchoices and we also need to live within our means."
Brown and other Republicans want to pay for the unemploymentbenefits with unspent money from last year's massive economicrecovery package.
The Democrats' unemployment bill would provide up to 99 weeklyunemployment checks averaging about $300 to people whose 26 weeksof state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would beavailable through the end of November, at a cost of $33 billion.There are no offsets in the bill, so the cost would add to thedeficit.
It's a tough vote for some lawmakers who want to helpconstituents hit hard by the recession but are wary of beinglabeled big spenders.
Senate Democrats initially combined the unemployment benefitswith the extension of the homebuyer tax credit. Once the combinedmeasure failed, the Senate passed the homebuyer provision byunanimous voice vote.
Under current law, homebuyers who signed purchase agreements byApril 30 must close on their new homes by Wednesday to qualify forcredits of up to $8,000. The bill would give those buyers untilSept. 30 to complete the purchases and qualify for the credit. TheHouse passed that measure Tuesday as a stand-alone bill.
Associated Press writers Andrew Miga and Andrew Taylorcontributed to this report.
An 83-year-old woman was killed in a house fire in Owen County Tuesday night.
A multi-vehicle accident on Interstate 65 shut down lanes Wednesday morning.
The Boone County Sheriff's Office asked that drivers use caution Wednesday morning as black ice was reported on some bridges in the county.