Washington - As Congress raced to leave Washington for its Easter recess, a Republican senator blocked a stopgap bill to extend jobless benefits, saying its $9 billion cost should not be added to the national debt.
As a result, some people who have been out of work for more than six months will at least temporarily lose benefits. Newly jobless people won't be eligible to sign up for generous health insurance subsidies.
At the center of the battle is Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is insisting that the measure be "paid for" so as not to add to the nation's $12.7 trillion debt.
"What we are doing is stealing future opportunity from our children," Coburn said Thursday.
Republicans offered legislation to finance the monthlong extension of jobless benefits by rescinding unspent money from last year's economic stimulus bill. The effort was killed on a party-line vote.
Democrats repeatedly sought speedy Senate approval of a House-passed measure that would extend jobless benefits through May 5, but Coburn objected. Republicans said Senate negotiations produced a compromise that didn't pass muster in the House.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would attempt to retroactively bestow the jobless benefits when it returns from its spring recess April 12.
The practical effect of the lapse in benefits would be limited if they are awarded retroactively. But labor advocates say it produces bureaucratic nightmares for state labor departments, and that trying to restore the lapsed benefits is easier said than done.
The clash comes less than a month after Republicans abandoned a similar battle that led to an interruption in unemployment benefits eligibility for some people and a two-day furlough for about 2,000 Transportation Department employees.