U.S. House to vote on extension of unemployment benefits

WASHINGTON ? Extended federal unemployment benefits, which can last up to 73 weeks, expire Dec. 31. The U.S. House will vote Tuesday on continuing to pay the benefits through January 2013.

Supporters of the extension say it's needed in the toughest job market in generations. Those who want to reduce the benefits, mainly Republicans, say payments that can run nearly two years are disincentives to work.

Georgia, with 10.2 percent unemployment, benefits mightily from the payments. Roughly 112,000 Georgians receive federal jobless assistance, the Georgia Department of Labor reported Monday.

Another 71,000 receive checks from the state, which offers up to 26 weeks of benefits. And, without another federal extension, most would see their benefits dry up early next year, according to the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

Authored by House Republican leaders, the bill now under consideration would reduce the federal extension from 73 weeks to 33 weeks and allow states to scale back their programs. Under current policy the benefits would drop to 53 weeks because unemployment is declining. The $34 billion cost is offset by spending cuts and fee increases elsewhere in the bill.

The bill faces an uncertain path this week. It contains a slew of year-end business, including an adjustment in Medicare payments to doctors and an extension of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. It offsets the spending with fee increases at government-backed mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reduction in Medicare benefits to high-income seniors and a pay freeze for federal workers, among other provisions. And it pushes a pair of controversial Republican priorities loathed by environmentalists: Approving an oil pipeline from Canada and rolling back emissions regulations on industrial boilers.

The White House has threatened to block the measure, and the Democrat-controlled Senate is likely to send back a much different bill than what the House passes.

The bill includes a number of reforms to the unemployment insurance program, including requiring beneficiaries who lack a high school degree to be making progress towards a GED.

It also allows states to drug test recipients of unemployment benefits.