WASHINGTON — Unable to deliver more stimulus spending for President Obama, Democrats in Congress are trying at least to restore jobless benefits for 1.3 million laid-off workers.
Democrats in both the House and Senate planned to vote on bills today that would extend unemployment benefits through the end of November for people who have been laid off for long stretches. House Democrats postponed a vote scheduled for yesterday. Democratic leaders were hoping to pass the extension before Congress goes on a weeklong Independence Day recess.
Without an extension, every week a new 200,000 of the nearly 7 million people who have been without a job for at least six months will lose their unemployment benefits. About 1.3 million have already lost benefits — including about 40,000 in Massachusetts — since the last extension ran out at the end of May, state and federal labor officials said.
“We have a basic responsibility to help our constituents respond to emergencies,’’ said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. “We have a fundamental obligation not to deny them the help they need when they need it the most.’’
Congressional Democrats began the year with an aggressive agenda of passing a series of bills designed to create jobs. Only one has become law, offering tax breaks to companies that hire unemployed workers. Others stalled as lawmakers, after hearing from angry voters, became wary of adding to the national debt, which stands at $13 trillion.
Obama has urged lawmakers to spend about $50 billion to help states pay for Medicaid programs and to avoid teacher layoffs, but Democrats in Congress have been unable to come up with the votes.
“This is crucial for America and crucial to the citizens of our states,’’ Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell said at a Washington, D.C., news conference with governors from Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, New York, Maryland, and Washington.
Rendell said Pennsylvania stands to lose $850 million in Medicaid money. Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson said his state might have to lay off 3,600 teachers. Budget writers for Massachusetts had been expecting about $608 million in additional Medicaid funds. Instead, lawmakers passed a stripped-down budget last week that includes cuts in local aid.
Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said extending benefits for the unemployed is a good way to stimulate the economy.
“It means they’ve got money in their pocket for the local grocery store, for the local gas station, and the local hardware store,’’ Solis said. “It means more money in local economies and more job creation.’’
However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about adding to the growing national debt.
“No one’s disputing the value of these very important programs,’’ said Senator Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts. “But we also have to have tough choices and we also need to live within our means.’’
Brown and other Republicans want to pay for the unemployment benefits with unspent money from last year’s massive economic recovery package.
Senate Democrats have combined the unemployment benefits with an extension of a popular tax credit for people who buy new homes. -- ASSOCIATED PRESS
The results suggest that the Obama administration’s promotion of the legislation may be paying off or that the public may be warming to the law as early provisions take effect.
The Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 48 percent of the public had a favorable view of the law in June while 41 percent had an unfavorable opinion. A month earlier, the split was 41 percent favorable to 44 percent unfavorable.
Since President Obama signed the law, Democrats and Republicans vying for advantage in the fall elections have been fighting to shape how the public perceives the historic legislation. The administration has been spotlighting potentially crowd-pleasing elements as they are phased in, including a provision that will allow many parents to keep young adult children on their insurance policies until age 26, and another provision that is helping some Medicare beneficiaries narrow a gap in their prescription drug coverage.
“Overall, roughly a third of voters say that a candidate who voted for the health reform law will be more likely to get their vote, a third say less likely, and a third say it doesn’t really matter,’’ said the foundation, which studies and distributes information about health care policy.
The poll was conducted June 17 through 22 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. -- WASHINGTON POST