Posted on 16 Apr 2010
The U.S. Congress on Thursday evening approved a near six-week extension of federal jobless benefits in a $18.2 billion bill that also continues health insurance subsidies for unemployed people. The measure extends the national flood insurance plan and funding to prevent a steep reduction in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.
The House of Representatives voted 289-112 to approve the measure after the Senate voted in favor of the package earlier Thursday. President Barack Obama signed the bill into law late Thursday night.
"I'm grateful that the House and Senate moved forward on this temporary extension today," Obama said. "But as I requested in my budget, I urge Congress to move quickly to extend these benefits through the end of this year."
Final passage of the measure comes after a several day dispute in the Senate over whether the spending should be offset by savings elsewhere in the federal budget.
Democrats said it didn't have to be paid for as it was emergency spending needed to help people who lost their jobs as a result of the economic recession.
A majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate voted against the measure, arguing that money should be found so the federal government's budget deficit isn't worsened.
In the Senate, Republicans offered up several ways to pay for the benefit extensions, all of which were defeated by the Democratic majority.
It was the second time in five weeks that the minority party has delayed a continuation of the benefits.
Three Republican senators voted with nearly every Democratic lawmaker to support the legislation. In the House, 49 Republicans sided with the Democrats in favor of the package.
The benefits and other programs expired last week due to Republican opposition over the cost issue. Since they lapsed, Democrats have estimated that roughly 200,000 long-term unemployed Americans have seen their benefits run out.
All the extensions will be done retroactively to the date the benefits and programs expired.
The bill will extend the maximum total of 99 weeks of combined federal and state jobless benefits to June 2, meaning unemployed people who have exhausted shorter periods of benefits normally available will continue to receive checks from the federal government.
It will continue health-care subsidies through the Cobra program and includes funds to avert a 21% decrease in payments to doctors who see Medicare patients through the end of May.
The flood-insurance program, which allows homeowners and businesses to protect against flood-related losses by buying insurance from the government, will resume when the bill becomes law. Because flood insurance is often required to close on mortgages in flood-plain areas, some real-estate transactions that occurred during the program's lapse couldn't be completed.
With this extension, Senate Democrats hope they can strike a deal with their House counterparts on a larger $150 billion bill that would continue the benefits through 2010.
That package was held up due to continuing wrangling over how to pay for tax credits included in it.