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Unemployment benefits: not until Bush tax cuts pass, Senate GOP says

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She tells of moving from North Carolina to Texas, then to Philadelphia to find work, then going back to college for a graduate degree to improve her skills. She says she is now negotiating extensions on her student loans.

She says she hopes Congress acts quickly. “My car is almost paid for,” she says, and without help she will lose it.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that they recognize the unusually difficult economy facing unemployed workers and want to extend benefits. But for now, this measure is held hostage to a larger battle over extending the Bush tax cuts.

“We have never failed to [extend jobless benefits] as long as the unemployment rate was above 7.2 or 7.4 percent,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island, who proposed a temporary extension of benefits for one year in a floor speech on Monday. The national rate is currently 9.6 percent, according to Labor Department statistics from October.

Obstruction with '19th century maneuvers'

Efforts in the Senate to extend the unemployment benefits were trapped in a procedural wrangle and never allowed on the floor for consideration. It fell to Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts to object on behalf of the Republican Party to one proposed measure that required unanimous consent to move to the floor.

“We are in the midst of a historic economic crisis. I realize that,” he said. But to avoid ”burdening future generations,” the $56.4 billion measure must be offset with cuts elsewhere, he said. Senator Brown proposed tapping unspent federal dollars in other programs, such as the 2009 Obama stimulus plan.

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