Republicans End Tantrum, Obama Extends Unemployment Insurance

| by AFL-CIO

By Mike Hall

After a nearly monthlong tantrum by Republican senators that cost hundreds of thousand of workers their unemployment insurance (UI), the U.S. House and Senate last night finally approved legislation to extend UI benefits through June 2 and President Obama immediately signed it.

But with unemployment still remaining at an official 9.7 percent and more than two in every five unemployed workers out of work for more than six months and more than five jobless workers for each job opening, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Congress must pass a yearlong extension so working families don’t face Republican obstruction and uncertainty every single month.

Obama also called for a longer extension when he signed the bill last night shortly after the House (289-120) and Senate (59-38) passed the bill.

I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year…to move forward on legislation to help small businesses grow and hire and other measures to increase the pace of job growth.

Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), whose home state suffers from a 14.1 percent  unemployment rate, blasted the Republicans’ continued efforts to block the UI extension that have included two filibusters, led by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) in February and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) this time around.

Holding unemployed Americans, hundreds of thousands of them, hostage to score what some think may be political points I think is reprehensible. Extending unemployment benefits has traditionally been a strong bipartisan effort, yet today some Republicans are claiming that their opposition is rooted in concern about the deficit.  They seem to have discovered fiscal responsibility when it comes time to extend unemployment benefits but not when it came to paying for tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war.

Three Senate Republicans voted for the bill: George Voinovich (Ohio) and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. The bill also extends COBRA benefits, which help jobless workers pay for health insurance.