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US Congress passes jobless aid package

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The US Congress on Thursday passed a two-month extension of unemployment benefits, overcoming Republican opposition that stalled the aid package when the programs expired at the end of March.

The Senate approved the measure by a 59-38 margin, quickly followed by the US House of Representatives with a 289-112 vote that sent the 18-billion-dollar plan to President Barack Obama to sign into law. “We have a responsibility to make sure out-of-work Americans can still access the vital safety-net programs they need to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table,” said Democratic Senator Max Baucus.

Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the US Congress would work “to pass a longer-term solution and create the jobs that will get our economy moving again.” The legislation, estimated to cost 18 billion dollars, also extends a stopgap health insurance program, a small business loan program, satellite television licensing, and national flood insurance.

Republicans had opposed the measure on grounds that it was not paid for, and would swell the ballooning US deficit. “It is tragic that we are condemning our children and grandchildren to a legacy of higher taxes and a lower standard of living because of these reckless and destructive decisions not to pay for our spending,” said Republican Senator Jim Bunning.

Democratic Representative Sander Levin, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, accused Republicans of trying to score “political points” and forgetting their track record when George W. Bush was president. “They seem to have discovered fiscal responsibility when it comes time to extend unemployment benefits but not when it came to paying for tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war,” he said.

Unemployment — and the sour-but-improving US economy generally — are expected to shape the November mid-term elections that will decide control of the US Congress.

Washington, April 15, 2010 (AFP)