The Senate on Thursday approved a bill already passed by the House that would extend unemployment for jobseekers whose benefits have run out. In Vermont, the bill will provide an additional seven weeks of benefits. The White House now says President Bush will sign the bill. The 89-6 Senate vote, and Bush's change of heart, came hours after the Labor Department reported that new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to a 16-year high.. At the same time, the number of people continuing to draw jobless benefits climbed to more than 4 million, the highest in more than 25 years. "With unemployment soaring, I'm glad we were able to extend unemployment benefits, but that's only one small step in terms of what we've got to do," Sanders said. "In my view, we need a massive economic recovery program which can create millions of good-paying jobs rebuilding our infrastructure and moving us away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy."
The progress on extending unemployment benefits came after Republican senators obstructed broader efforts to pull the U.S. economy out of its tailspin.
Using the threat of a filibuster, Republican leaders objected even to debating a wide-ranging economic stimulus package. Then they stopped the Senate from taking up three separate bills that were more targeted, including:
- Auto Industry Assistance The measure would provide $25 billion in loans to the auto industry from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. It requires a long-term financial plan from the companies and has provisions for oversight, taxpayer protection, and limits on executive compensation.
- Tax Relief for New Car Purchases The bill would help taxpayers afford new cars and save jobs in the auto industry. Specifically, the bill creates tax deductions for interest payments on car loans and state sales/excise taxes for new cars purchased between now and December 31, 2009.
- Helping States The measure would provide $37.8 billion to reduce the states' share of Medicaid costs by increasing the federal share by 8 percent.
The automakers, whose top executives flew from Detroit to Washington this week aboard private corporate jets, failed miserably in trying to persuade Congress or the public that $25 billion in aid from the government would be well-spent. Before recessing for a Thanksgiving holiday break, Congressional leaders gave the industry 12 days to come up with a plan. Congress is coming back for another lame-duck session on December 8.
To read more about the carmakers' luxury private jets, click here.