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

Senate Republicans pledge not to take up any issues, including extending unemployment benefits, until the Bush tax cuts and federal spending bills are sorted out.

By Staff Writer / December 1, 2010

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks to labor union members and the media to press for an extension of unemployment benefits on Wednesday.

Bill Clark/Roll Call/Newscom

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Washington

The lame-duck Congress, mired in a partisan clash over taxes and spending and preoccupied with a battle over extending the Bush tax cuts, refused Wednesday to restore federal financing of extended unemployment benefits, which had lapsed overnight.

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The inaction means the imminent loss of unemployment compensation for some 800,000 out-of-work Americans, with nearly 2 million long-term unemployed expected to be affected by Jan. 1, according to the Labor Department.

US Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, speaking Wednesday at a press conference organized by Democratic congressional leaders, said that by next spring, another 6 million unemployed workers will lose benefits if Congress does not act. “Millions of families are going to struggle to put food on the table or put gas in the gas tank,” she said.

The press conference at the Capitol's Visitors Center had the trappings of a rally, with scores of unemployed workers from around the country in attendance.

Belt-tightening for Mary Williams

Mary Williams, a mental-health counselor from Philadelphia who has been out of work for seven months and lost her unemployment coverage with the overnight lapse in funding, was in the crowd.

Congress’s failure to act means even more belt-tightening, Ms. Williams says. “I try to take care of a roof, food, and the car I need to go from place to place to find jobs,” she says. “It’s choosing what’s most important – the basic necessities.”

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.

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