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Senate tries to extend jobless benefits deadline - again

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Democratic Senators Monday unveiled a $150 billion bill that pushes back the deadline to file for unemployment insurance until year-end and extends dozens of expiring corporate and personal tax credits.

The wide-ranging legislation, which could be voted on as soon as this week, would allow the jobless to apply for extended federal unemployment benefits and the COBRA health insurance subsidy through Dec. 31. It would also make the prevision retroactive to March 1, so the unemployed would not miss any payments.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. These federal benefits, worth up to 73 weeks, are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

But last week the Senate failed to pass a 30-day extension of the filing deadline, which expired on Feb. 28, because one Republican Senator objected. As a result, more than a million people are set to lose their federal unemployment benefits this month.

"As we work to create jobs and get our economy moving again, we also have a responsibility to provide the unemployment insurance, COBRA health benefits and other critical support services American families and communities depend on for survival," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who co-sponsored the bill with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "This bill ensures out-of-work Americans can meet their families' basic needs while they are looking for a new job."

The unemployed are starting to see an end to their checks as they get caught in a game of political football. Tensions have been high in the Senate since mid-February, when Reid stripped down a version of an $85 billion bipartisan jobs bill offered by Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chair, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee's ranking Republican.

Though Monday's bill contains many tax provisions that the Republicans favor, they are not pleased that several small business measures contained in the Baucus-Grassley legislation were removed.

"My bill contains a number of provisions that will leave more money in the hands of small businesses so that they can hire more workers, continue to pay the salaries of their current employees, and make additional investments in their business," Grassley said on the Senate floor Monday.

Republicans plan to offer amendments that would provide tax incentives to help small businesses invest in new equipment and hire workers. It would be paid for with stimulus funds.

Extending tax credits, helping doctors

Monday's bill extends dozens of tax provisions -- including allowing teachers to deduct education expenses and providing businesses a research and development credit -- that expired at the end of last year.

The legislation would also temporarily reverse a 21% reduction in Medicare physician reimbursement rates for seven months. That cut took effect Monday, prompting doctors to warn that they will drop Medicare patients.

While this bill extends many of the provisions that expired Sunday, it did not address the end of the federal funding for highway, bridge and transit projects. That extension was covered in Reid's stripped down $15 billion bill that the Senate passed last week. However, it is now stuck in the House.

The federal Department of Transportation said Monday it will furlough up to 2,000 workers and will stop paying hundreds of million of dollars worth of reimbursements to states to cover their infrastructure projects. To top of page

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