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Unemployment Benefits Bill Blocked in House

A stand-alone unemployment benefits bill failed to get the two-thirds vote it needed to pass on suspension Tuesday, forcing Democratic leaders to bring the bill back up Wednesday under a rule.

The measure would have extended unemployment benefits for several months, but Republicans and some conservative Democrats were able to block passage.

Thirty Republicans voted for the measure and 16 Democrats voted against it; it had a 261-155 majority, well short of the two-thirds required.

Republicans said they did not oppose extending the benefits but said it should have been paid for by cutting spending elsewhere, such as from the $787 billion stimulus package Democrats pushed through last year.

“Here we go again,” said Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee. “Another month, another bill extending unemployment benefits and extending the federal deficit.”

Camp said he supports extending the jobless benefits, “but the American people know it isn’t right to simply add the cost of this spending to our already overdrawn national credit card.”

Democrats ripped the opposition from Republicans. “There is an emergency and an urgency” to passing the extension, said Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin (Mich.), who complained that Republicans who voted for extended unemployment benefits and other measures increasing the deficit under President George W. Bush are now suddenly making the deficit the priority.

“They are turning their backs on Americans who are unemployed through no fault of their own and are looking for work,” Levin said. “That’s not the America I know.”

Levin said 1.7 million families have already been cut off from benefits, with that number rising every week, and called Republicans “callous.”

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said of the outcome: “It’s obscene.”

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