Led by Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., Republicans shut down a Democratic effort to extend unemployment benefits in states with the highest jobless rates.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had called for the Senate to pass, under unanimous consent, the Americans Want to Work Act on Wednesday. The bill would have added a fifth tier of unemployment insurance benefits in states with unemployment rates above 7.5 percent.
But LeMieux stepped in to oppose the measure, saying there was no funding source.
"Senate Republicans have and will vote to extend unemployment compensation if it is paid for. Easy to do, but Democrats won't support it," LeMieux said.
"While we're all certainly sympathetic and want to work to make people go back to work -- my home state of Florida certainly suffering with very high unemployment -- we need to know how we're going to pay for it so we don't put this debt on our children and grandchildren."
A fifth-tier extension would have given an additional 20 weeks of unemployment insurance (UI) pay to unemployed workers who had exhausted their benefits -- a population estimated at roughly 2 million.
The so-called "99 bill," referring to the current benefit ceiling of 99 weeks, would have extended payments to 119 weeks.
As they have during previous debates, Democrats argued that unemployment benefits help to stimulate the sagging economy.
"The reality for us in America is that we will never get out of debt with more than 15 million people out of work," Stabenow said.
LeMieux countered that a country with a $13.5 trillion deficit cannot afford to keep spending money it doesn't have.
Stabenow, who called the bill an emergency measure, vowed to continue to fight for passage, but the Senate and House adjourned hours later for their October recess and will not reconvene until after the Nov. 2 election.
To override LeMieuxs objection to using the unanimous consent provision, Democrats would have had to file a cloture petition and invoke cloture with 60 votes. Only if those time-consuming steps were taken could actual debate have begun.
LeMieux's office did not respond to Sunshine State News' request for comment, but the conservative Heritage Foundation says there are sound fiscal reasons to oppose yet another extension of unemployment benefits.
According to Heritage research:
Extending either the amount or the duration of unemployment benefits increases the length of time that workers remain unemployed.
Roughly one-third of workers receiving unemployment benefits find work immediately once their benefits expire. This happens both when unemployment is high and when unemployment is low, said a report in Industrial and Labor Relations Review.
Each 13-week extension of benefits increases the average length of time workers receiving benefits stay unemployed by approximately two weeks.
Families respond to unemployment benefits by reducing other income. Research in the Journal of Labor Economics found that wives earnings fall by between 36 and 73 cents for each dollar of benefits married men receive.
Commenting on the bill from the U.S. House, Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, shared LeMieux's concerns.
"In a best case scenario it (the bill extending unemployment benefits) would've only funded half the claims. (The bill) was very broadly written with no accountability," Posey said.
LeMieux, who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to fill the seat vacated by retired Sen. Mel Martinez, is widely believed to be gearing up to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in 2012.
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.