House Republicans banded together on Thursday to block a bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for those out of work for more than six months.
The measure would have made the benefits last through February, as they are set to expire Dec. 1. Should a similar measure fail to pass before then, an estimated 2 million Americans will lose benefits averaging $310 a week.
While the bill actually received a 258-154 majority, that was short of the 290 needed because Democrats pushed for it to be passed under fast-track rules that require a two-thirds majority. A bill presented on the floor this way can also not be amended, which angered House Republicans who maintained that they wanted to pass the bill, but only after finding a way to lower its overall cost.
Had it passed, the bill would have added $12.5 billion to the nation's $13.8 trillion national debt.
"The fact is, we can both provide this help and pay for it by cutting less effective stimulus spending," said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.). "That's what we should be debating today."
The argument is similar to the ones used by Republicans to veto similar jobless benefits extensions in the past. The December extension that is currently expiring was passed in July after benefits actually expired for people unemployed for six months in May.
On Thursday, Democrats countered that the latest stall was caused by similar bipartisan wrangling.
“Republicans in Congress are eager to spend lavishly on tax breaks for the fortunate few, but stingy when it comes to helping the middle class make ends meet," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
To get the latest extension passed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she would bring the bill back to the floor after Thanksgiving. However, even if the House were to pass a measure to extend benefits at least through the holidays, the Senate may not have time to vote on it before the holiday break – a point of contention with the White House.
"I don't think we want to leave here having fought for tax cuts for millionaires and against unemployment insurance for those that have lost their jobs," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
If unable to pass an emergency measure, the Senate is likely to address the jobless benefits in year-end negotiations over taxes and other legislation.
Does unemployment make us lazy? Check out this MainStreet article that examines the arguments.