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House GOP blocks extension of jobless benefits

Because the fast-track measure requires a two-thirds majority, Republicans produce the votes needed to prevent extending the aid beyond Nov. 30. In a sign of their agenda to come, they also try unsuccessfully to cut National Public Radio funding.

November 18, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — House Republicans voted Thursday to deny an extension of unemployment benefits for jobless Americans and tried to cut off public funding for National Public Radio, moves that reinforced the GOP's direction following its midterm election gains.

The votes were not necessarily new tactics, as Republicans have generally opposed extending unemployment insurance unless it is paid for with federal spending cuts elsewhere, and have pledged to take weekly votes to cut federal spending. But the two House votes, within hours of each other as lawmakers prepared to recess for a Thanksgiving break, provided an example of the agenda to come when the GOP takes control of the chamber in January.

"This couldn't come at a worse time," said Rep. Chellie Pingree (D- Maine) in making the case to extend unemployment benefits. "Although our economy has shown some signs of improving, far, far too many people are still unable to find a job."

Unemployment insurance runs out on Nov. 30 for 2 million jobless Americans. Democrats sought to extend coverage during the holiday season through February, when another 2 million would be without benefits.

But Republicans opposed using emergency funds for the $12.5-billion cost of the jobless aid. Instead, they wanted the benefits paid by shifting federal funds from economic stimulus accounts or from other programs.

Lawmakers voted 258-154 to extend the jobless benefits, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the fast-track measure. Eleven Democrats and 143 Republicans were among those voting no.

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. (R-La.) argued that Democrats, by bringing the bill to the floor without providing a way to pay for its costs, failed to heed the anti-spending message of the election.

"Are you even listening to the American people?" Boustany said.

Restricting federal funding to National Public Radio is part of the GOP's "YouCut" campaign, in which various federal programs are suggested for cuts. Visitors to a Republican website can vote for their favorites.

NPR has long been in the GOP's crosshairs for its perceived liberal bias. But the organization's firing of commentator Juan Williams after comments about Muslims flying on airplanes reignited the debate.

"NPR's recent firing of longtime news analyst Juan Williams was a wake-up call," said Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), the bill's sponsor. "It is not so much the liberal bias that offends me, but the fact that our tax dollars are funding it."

Most of NPR's funding comes from listener contributions and corporate sponsors, with just a fraction coming from federal sources. The effort to curtail the funds died on a procedural vote.

lisa.mascaro@latimes.com

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