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Harkin Threatens Holiday Plans Over Jobless Benefits

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin vowed today to prohibit Congress from adjourning for the holidays unless it passes an extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

Flanked at a press conference by House and Senate Democratic colleagues, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and scores of unemployed workers who traveled to the Capitol, the Iowa Democrat guaranteed that Congress will remain in Washington, D.C., through Christmas if the benefits are not extended.

“Let me just put it this way: There will be no Christmas for Congress unless there is an extension of the unemployment insurance benefits,” Harkin said. “Believe me, we have a number of us on the Senate side. We’re not going home. We’re not going to have Christmas for Congress until you get an extension of unemployment benefits.”

A motion to adjourn cannot be filibustered, but a majority vote is needed to close the Senate if a Senator demands a vote on the issue. Typically, the Senate adjourns or recesses by unanimous consent without holding a vote.

GOP leaders have indicated that they intend to pass the extension and want to find a way to pay for it, but deep differences remain between the Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate on how or whether to offset the cost.

“We Republicans do care about people that are out of work,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters today.

Nevertheless, some conservatives have objected to the measure. Harkin criticized those Republicans, calling them “out of touch.”

“I hate to inform my Republican colleagues, but Wall Street did not build America,” he said. “But when it comes to handing out hundreds of millions of dollars, Wall Street is up front. It’s time for middle-class America to be up front.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer has also said that Congress should not adjourn until the extension is passed.

“There is no more important piece of legislation that we need to pass than the extension of unemployment insurance benefits,” the Maryland Democrat said today. “Over the next 21 days we’re going to test whether the Congress has a heart and a soul.”

Solis said the Obama administration stands ready to help implement an unemployment insurance extension, which she called “the American thing to do.”

“I don’t have to remind you the clock is ticking. We have one month,” the former House Member said. “Some lawmakers say that we can’t afford to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax relief in our current fiscal environment, but I say we can’t afford not to.”

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