A smoldering battle over restoring unemployment benefits immediately reignited Monday as the Senate returned to session after a two-week recess.
Senators in both parties again cast blame on each other for allowing federally financed benefits averaging $335 a week to lapse for hundreds of thousands of people who have been out of work for more than six months.
Citing worries over the deficit, Republicans last month blocked legislation to extend the benefits through the end of April while House-Senate talks continue on a far larger measure to extend them through the end of the year.
A procedural vote Monday is likely to succeed, Republicans and Democrats agreed, and therefore allow the Senate to at least debate the measure. But the wrangling is likely to continue Tuesday and perhaps beyond.
At issue is unemployment compensation for more than 400,000 people whose benefits lapsed but who would have been eligible to reapply for additional weeks of benefits if the program's authority had not ended on April 5. More than 5 million people continue to receive the extended benefits, but 200,000 people a week stand to lose them if the impasse continues.
Several other programs have also lapsed, including federal flood insurance, higher Medicare payment rates for doctors and generous health insurance subsidies for people who've lost their jobs.
In practice, the expiration of the programs means that the newly jobless aren't eligible to sign up for health insurance subsidies but that people currently covered under the so-called COBRA law retain the benefit. People living in flood plains can't sign up for flood insurance, while the Medicare program has delayed payments to doctors rather than impose a 21 percent cut.
Republicans blocked the temporary measure last month, saying it should have correlating spending cuts so as to not increase the deficit. But 21 Republicans had voted for an earlier temporary measure covering March after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., initially blocked it single-handedly and caused a public relations disaster for the party.
Now, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is leading the charge against the measure, which would add $9 billion to the deficit.
"My goal is to get it paid for," Coburn said.
"I don't think that one could contend that somewhere in the federal budget we can't find $9.5 billion over the course of the year which could be used to pay for these benefits," said GOP Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona.
But Democrats countered that extended unemployment benefits have always been financed through the deficit and that providing them to jobless people running short on cash is a good way to boost the economy.
"Unemployment extensions have always been considered emergency spending, and there's a reason for that," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "Unemployment insurance is a form of stimulus, but offsetting the extension of this program would negate the stimulative impact. It would be robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Republicans countered that they had reached a tentative agreement with Senate Democrats last month to finance a portion of the temporary benefits but that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., squashed the idea.
A long-term measure extending benefits through December would add another $50 billion to the deficit, regardless of whether Republicans find a way to prevail in the current showdown.
Unemployment benefits run as long as 99 weeks in states with jobless rates of at least 8.5 percent. That's currently more than 30 states, including California, New York and Florida.
© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.