Jobless benefits extended

WASHINGTON -- After more than a month of stalemate, Congress last week passed a bill that extends unemployment benefits through November for millions of people who have been out of work for more than six months.

President Barack Obama signed the legislation shortly after the final vote. More than 2.5 million people who had exhausted their benefits will be able to collect benefits retroactively to June, when the program expired, and until the end of November.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs predicted last week that a new extension probably will be needed in the fall, as unemployment is expected to remain at "emergency" levels.

Most Democrats voted to extend benefits, while most Republicans voted against the extension.

Republicans argued that while they were in favor of sending aid to the unemployed, the $34 billion cost of the bill should have been offset by spending cuts elsewhere or else risk deepening the federal deficit.

Democrats responded that unemployment payments customarily have been considered to be emergency spending and so were exempt from "pay as you go" budgeting rules.

Republicans blocked the bill in the Senate until Democrats were able to reach the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster. The key vote was cast by Sen. Carte Goodwin, D-W.Va., who was appointed to succeed the late Sen. Robert Byrd who died last month.

The House voted 272-152 for the bill. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for it.

The Senate vote was 59-39. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for the bill. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against it.

Before the final vote, Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., offered an amendment that would have paid for the jobless benefits by rescinding unobligated stimulus funds, and cutting other stimulus money he said was not scheduled to be spent "for several years."

"If this is an emergency as is being said, then let's get the money that is not being used out the door right now," Brown said.

The amendment was rejected, 42-56. Democrats argued stimulus funds were a key part of the Obama administration's drive to create jobs and boost the economy.

Ensign voted for the Brown amendment. Reid voted against it.

Senate approves spending for wars, not schools

The Senate scaled back an $82 billion spending bill to $58.8 billion, deleting money for schools and summer jobs but approving funding to continue wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As Congress continued to wrangle over an emergency spending bill that the Pentagon said is crucial to avoid cuts in readiness, Senate leaders could not muster the votes for domestic spending in the more expensive measure.

In a procedural move, senators voted 46-51 to effectively reject the larger bill passed by the House. The scaled back version was sent back to the House, where leaders hope to pass it before lawmakers recess for August.

Among projects that were excised was $10 billion in aid to schools to avert layoffs, $1 billion for a summer jobs program, and $1.25 billion to settle a discrimination lawsuit brought against the Agriculture Department by black farmers.

Reid voted for the domestic spending. Ensign voted against it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault or 202-783-1760.