Last-minute attempts to work out a deal extending unemployment benefits fell through and lawmakers left Capitol Hill this weekend knowing many of their of out-of-work constituents face a cut-off of aid on April 5.
The Senate will return from its spring break on April 12, but that will be too late for those counting on the stop-gap assistance in a country with a 9.7 percent unemployment rate. A $9 billion bill stretching the benefit program and also continuing COBRA health benefits and federal flood insurance for another full month simply wasn't paid for, Republican lawmakers complained. A compromise one- or two-week extension, proposed by the Senate, also failed when the House refused to go along.
The federal stimulus package authorized adding more than a year to the 26-week state-based unemployment insurance program, but Congress must fund tiered extensions. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), called "Senator NO" by friends and foes, objected to another extension unless the money for it was offset by savings elsewhere.
All is not lost. If Congress acts on the matter when senators and House members return next month, benefits could be granted retroactively. "This will be our first item of business when we come back," said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.