Senate set to pass jobless benefit extension

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WASHINGTON -- The Senate is expected to easily approve legislation today restoring unemployment benefits to nearly 3 million people, throwing the bill to a divided House, where Republicans favor starkly different approaches to the issue.

Six Senate Republicans joined all 55 Democrats last week to end debate on legislation that retroactively restores benefits cut off Dec. 28 and extends them through June 1, clearing the way for passage today.

Seven House Republicans from high-unemployment regions or swing districts plan to send House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio a letter coinciding with Senate passage to urge him to take up the Senate bill or a similar measure.

Other House Republicans are pressing to attach to the Senate bill what they call job-creation measures: building the transcontinental Keystone XL pipeline; consolidating job training programs; or requiring employer-mandated health care coverage for employees who work 40 hours a week, rather than 30, as written in President Barack Obama's health care law.

But many House Republicans oppose passing the unemployment benefits under any circumstances, arguing that such "emergency" benefits are no longer needed nearly six years after they were first extended at the outset of the recession.

"To me it's important to get this done, politically to get it off the table, but also there are people who need it," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., one of the drafters of the new House letter. "If we're blaming Obama for the economy, we shouldn't be penalizing people who are the victims."

Democrats would like an improving economy to benefit Mr. Obama -- and thus benefit them during the 2014 congressional campaigns. But they also want to keep the pressure on Republicans to renew unemployment benefits.

Republicans have the opposite task: Paint the economic recovery as woeful but not so bad as to warrant renewed aid to the unemployed.

"America doesn't work when hardworking people can't find the jobs or hours they need to make ends meet," Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., the House majority leader, said Friday.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats will bring up a bill to guarantee women equal pay for work equal to their male counterparts, coinciding with a speech by the president on the same subject. That will tee up a procedural vote Wednesday that is likely to fail, and another motion to raise the minimum wage, setting up a vote on that after a two-week spring recess for Congress.


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