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Blunt, McCaskill At Odds Over Extending Unemployment Benefits

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Missouri’s two U.S. senators – Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill – are highlighting their differences when it comes to extending unemployment benefits to millions of out-of-work Americans.

On Wednesday, the two held dueling tele-conferences with reporters in which Blunt make clear his opposition and McCaskill underscored her support. 

The Senate voted this week to restore the extension, which ended Dec. 28 for about 1.3 million Americans.  Without an extension, almost 5 million would lose benefits by the end of 2014. After final Senate action, the matter will go to the House, where its fate is unclear.

According to federal figures released by McCaskill's office, more than 21,000 Missourians lost unemployment benefits as of Dec. 28.   Unless the benefits are restored, an additional 35,400 in Missouri will lose their aid by the end of 2014, her staff said.

Blunt said he had voted at least 10 times in recent years against extending unemployment benefits beyond the 26 weeks that most states already provide. Many, he noted, provide far more aid.

“When you go to … 99 weeks of unemployment, there is no evidence that is the right way to deal with unemployment,’’ the senator said. He also cited the extension's increased federal cost of about $6 billion every 90 days.

Citing the multiple years of extensions that Congress previously has approved, Blunt said, “If the same amount of time was spent trying to figure out how to encourage private sector job creation, I think we’d be a lot better off.”

McCaskill, who defended the extension, said the public has been misled about the issue. “This is not a permanent unemployment check for people who are in states where the unemployment has really dropped, and Missouri is one of those states,” she told reporters.

“One of the things that hasn’t been made clear to the public (is) that we are really talking about benefits that impact a certain percentage of the long-term unemployed,” McCaskill said. “Most of this money is going to be spent in states with much higher unemployment than Missouri. So, it is important that we keep this safety net in place for those states where there is still really a problem with unemployment.”

McCaskill said she supported taking a closer look at “ways to make this program modern and effective.”   But in the meantime, she concluded, the extension was “not a lot of money, and I have not met anyone who’d rather get this check than a job.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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