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Senate extends jobless benefits deadline

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- After days of intense infighting, the Senate voted late Tuesday night to extend the deadline for the jobless to apply for extended unemployment benefits. Several hours later, President Obama signed the measure.

More than 200,000 people were set to stop receiving checks this week after lawmakers let the Feb. 28 deadline to apply for extended federal benefits lapse. Senators had been trying to pass a 30-day, short-term extension for the past week, but Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., refused to go along.

Bunning, who wanted the $10 million measure paid for, agreed to end his filibuster after coming under intense pressure from both parties in recent days. The Senate then voted 78-19 to push back the deadline to apply for unemployment insurance until April 5 and the federal subsidy for Cobra health insurance until the end of March.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic, state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds. These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

About 11.5 million people currently depend on jobless benefits.

The unemployed have been caught in a game of political football on Capitol Hill. Tensions have been high in the Senate since mid-February, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., stripped down a version of an $85 billion bipartisan jobs bill offered by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

The measure passed Tuesday also prevents a 21% reduction in Medicare reimbursements for physicians from taking effect until month's end and continues federal funding for highway, bridge and transit projects until March 28.

The federal Department of Transportation said Monday it was furloughing up to 2,000 workers and would stop paying hundreds of million of dollars worth of reimbursements to states to cover their infrastructure projects. With the extension bill now law, those employees should start returning to work.

It also extends a popular small business loan guarantee program through March 28 and appropriates an additional $60 million for it. As part of the Recovery Act, the program calls for the Small Business Administration has waived its fees and offered banks guarantees of up to 90% on the loans the agency backs.

The agreement comes a day after Democratic senators 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.

This more expansive legislation would extend many expired tax provisions -- including allowing teachers to deduct education expenses and providing businesses a research and development credit -- that Republicans favor. To top of page

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