By Andrew Taylor Associated Press
Posted: 11/18/2010 05:49:10 PM PST
Updated: 11/18/2010 05:49:10 PM PST

WASHINGTON — Jobless benefits will run out for 2 million people during the holiday season unless they are renewed by a Congress that’s focusing more attention on a quarrel over preserving tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year.

It’s looking iffy at best whether Congress will renew jobless benefits averaging $310 per week nationwide that are presently claimed by almost 5 million people who have been out of work for more than six months.

An extension of jobless benefits enacted this summer expires Dec. 1, and Thursday, a bill to extend them for three months failed in the House. Democrats brought the bill to the floor under fast-track rules that required a two-thirds vote to pass. Republicans opposed the legislation because they were denied a chance to attach spending cuts, so the measure fell despite winning a 258-154 majority.

In Thursday’s vote, 21 Republicans joined with Democrats in favor. Eleven moderate-to-conservative Democrats opposed the bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, promised to bring the measure back to the floor after Thanksgiving to try to enact an emergency measure that extend benefits at least through the holidays. But Senate Democrats don’t have time; instead, they hope the jobless benefits issue gets addressed in year-end negotiations over taxes and other important year-end legislation.

The most recent effort to renew jobless benefits occupied weeks of the notoriously balky Senate’s time and barely advanced with the required 60 votes.

Now, even if there were time, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky would appear to command the votes to block any benefits extension that is not “paid for” with cuts to other programs. Sen.-elect Mark Kirk of Illinois will soon join the chamber, replacing Democrat Roland Burris, which appears to now leave Democrats short of the votes to defeat a filibuster.

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