TOPICS > Economy

Future for Many Jobless in Question as GOP Blocks Unemployment Extension

June 25, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: While a financial reform bill has moved closer to
passage, legislation to extend unemployment benefits stalled in the Senate last
night. Democrats were unable to overcome Republican resistance to a $112
billion bill that, among other things, would have extended jobless benefits and
provided federal aid to cash-strapped states.

The impasse means benefits for more than one million unemployed people
will expire as of tomorrow.

For more on this story, we’re joined now by Lori Montgomery. She covers
Capitol Hill for The Washington Post.

Thanks for being with us again.

LORI MONTGOMERY, The Washington Post: Thanks for having me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: First of all, tell us, what was in the bill?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, it’s sort of a grab bag of things that they were
trying to push through that have to be done. There are an array of tax cuts
that have already expired for businesses and individuals that have to be
extended for another year.

They wanted to extend the jobless benefits. They wanted to fix the pay
cut for doctors who see Medicare patients, which was taken care of in another
bill. And they wanted to push some more money out to the states, which are
looking at big budget cuts or tax increases to deal with their own budget
problems.

So, it was a whole grab bag of things intended to help a number of
people and to bolster the economic recovery.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But the main focus, then, seemed to be on the jobless
benefits.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, that has the most immediate impact. I mean,
that’s what everybody is all concerned about, now that the thing has failed,
because jobless benefits — emergency jobless benefits, the benefits that carry
you from the expiration of your state benefits at six months through as much as
99 weeks expired on June 2. And, as of tomorrow, as you pointed out, 1.2
million people will have been completely cut off.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why are Republicans so opposed? Because, when this
came up a few months ago, there were a few Republican votes for it.

LORI MONTGOMERY: That’s right. Well, a few months ago, six Republicans
voted for a much bigger bill.

But, since then, anxiety about the deficit in an election year has just
sort of ballooned out of proportion on Capitol Hill. Republicans are hammering
Democrats on the spending issue and deficits. And so you have got Democrats
becoming more reluctant to vote for spending, and Republicans sort of beginning
to build their election-year case.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you had Senator Ben Nelson, a moderate Democrat from
Nebraska, siding with the Republicans.

The Democrats, though, in recent days, have tried to move toward some of
these concerns.

LORI MONTGOMERY: They have. They have. They have cut the bill down
dramatically. It started out as a $200 billion bill. They have got it down to
nearly $100 billion. The deficit impact at one point was $150 billion. They
have got down to $33 billion.

So, they have — and they’re paying for a lot of this stuff or proposing
to by using unexpended funds from last year’s economic stimulus package, which
the Republicans had been calling for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you still have in here, or always have, the element
of politics, and that each side is always thinking, not only about the substance
of what is here, but this is an election year.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Exactly.

And the Republicans, you know, we don’t really know if they truly
believe that we shouldn’t spend this money, that we should cut the deficit, or
if this is trying to build a case to prevent Democrats from accomplishing some
of their goals.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, meanwhile, Democrats are saying, we may be able to
use the fact that Republicans voted against it in the fall as well.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, that’s the thing, because they could have moved
an emergency unemployment benefit piece separately, but they’re choosing not to
do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why not?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Because they want to keep the entire package together.
They don’t think that Republicans would necessarily support the aid to state
governments, which is very important to Democrats and Democratic governors.

Therefore, they want to keep the unemployment benefits and the tax cuts
for businesses bundled together in one package.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, what’s the practical effect of this? We said
a 1.2 million losing their benefits as of tomorrow. Longer term, what the
practical effect?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, when benefits expired on June 2, there were over
five million people on emergency benefits. I think there are about four million
people on regular benefits.

Those five million people will time out and be — the program will end
by the end of October. And those four million people, if they can’t find a job,
will not have a safety net to fall back on after 26 weeks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we’re hearing there is some talk on the Hill about
trying to pull this off, just as you said, pulling it out separately, as only
jobless benefits, but no guarantee that will happen.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, House leaders are talking about it. Senator
Olympia Snowe, a moderate Democrat, called today…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Yes. I mean, sorry — a moderate Republican — called
— who voted against the bill — called on Reid to bring it up as a freestanding
measure.

But Reid’s office just ruled it out and said, Senator Snowe, if she
wanted to support this, could have done it yesterday.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And — and the argument — I mean, where they debating
the substance as they were — as they were arguing about this on the floor?

LORI MONTGOMERY: Well, the argument was almost entirely about deficit
spending, and Republicans accusing Democrats of — you know, they had offered an
alternative that was fully paid for with spending cuts. That was their sort of
position. And unless Democrats paid for the whole thing and cut spending,
Republicans seemed completely unwilling to vote for this mix of things that
contained some things that they didn’t really want to support.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, there could be an attempt to come back, but, for the
time being, no jobless benefit extension.

LORI MONTGOMERY: For the time being, no jobless benefit extension.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All right, LORI MONTGOMERY with The Washington Post,
thank you very much.

LORI MONTGOMERY: Thank you.