* Vote set for 10 a.m. Tuesday
* Democrats say jobless relief would help U.S. economy
* Republicans demand offsets to avoid increase in federal
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Jan 6 With many lawmakers unable to
get to Washington because of record freezing temperatures, the
U.S. Senate abruptly postponed until Tuesday a vote on a White
House-backed bill to extend jobless benefits for 1.3 million
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid obtained the surprise
delay on Monday just as the chamber was expected to begin a
roll-call vote on whether to start consideration of the measure.
With Congress returning for the new year, it had been
unclear if the bill would muster the needed 60 votes in the
100-member Senate to end a Republican procedural roadblock.
But with much of the nation in the grips of a deep freeze,
more than a dozen lawmakers were prevented from even getting to
the Senate, making it certain that backers would fall short.
Democrats hold the Senate, 55-45.
Assistant Senate Republican Leader John Cornyn of Texas
accused Reid of pushing ahead with a vote because he was more
interested in the politics of the issue than helping the
"This ought to be postponed to a later time when we could
have a real debate" about how to "pay for an extension of
jobless benefits and how to get the economy growing," Cornyn
Reid then rose and, without objection, got the vote reset
for 10 a.m. on Tuesday. A Senate aide said Democrats believe
they are within one or two votes of getting 60.
If Democrats fall short, they may agree to Republicans
demands for some sort of spending cuts to cover the cost of
extending the program without increasing the record federal
debt, aides said.
At an estimated cost of $6 billion, the bill offered by
Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican
Senator Dean Heller of Nevada would immediately extend for three
months the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.
During those three months, backers say, Democrats and
Republicans could consider possible ways to offset the cost and
create new jobs.
Signed into law in 2008 by Republican President George W.
Bush, the program last year provided the jobless an average of
$300 per week for an additional 28 weeks once state benefits
About 1.3 million Americans lost their benefits on Dec. 28.
Unless the program is renewed, another 2 million are expected to
lose their benefits in the first six months of this year.
"Don't leave these people without anything," Reed pleaded on
the Senate floor.
Supporters argue that besides helping the unemployed, the
program boosts the economy as recipients quickly spend their
benefit checks on essential goods, helping local retailers.
Reed said if backers of his bill fail to muster the 60 votes
needed to advance the measure, they would keep pushing to
bolster support in coming days.
"Public pressure will build," Reed said. "People need help."
Obama intends to help whip up such public support with an
event at the White House on Tuesday with long-term unemployed.
Republicans contend that the U.S. economy, with the jobless
rate now at a five-year low of 7 percent, is on the mend and
that such emergency federal assistance is no longer necessary.
The best way to spread the wealth, Republicans argue, is to
create more of it by creating jobs via less regulation and
While Heller urged lawmakers to support the bill, he also
echoed a position of fellow Republicans, saying, "Growing our
economy should be the primary focus and concern of this body."