CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly 7,000 West Virginians and more than 1 million Americans lost emergency unemployment insurance benefits when they expired at the end of December.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., are supporting efforts to extend that unemployment insurance for 90 days.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 60-37 to limit debate on the three-month extension, giving the legislation a surprising victory.
"While our economy continues to improve, it should be a top priority to put forward sensible policies that can both stimulate growth and provide critical support to people as they pursue job opportunities," Rockefeller said on Tuesday.
"Congress never should have let emergency unemployment insurance expire. Without this safety net, families are now having to make even more impossible choices, like deciding how to heat their homes, put food on the table and pay for a doctor's visit -- all while keeping up a full-time job search, which can also be costly.
"I'm glad the Senate was able to advance this important legislation that will help those who are trying to get back on their feet," Rockefeller said.
During a telephone press conference on Tuesday, Manchin said he voted for the extension. But he believes Congress must find a way to pay for that extension.
"It took 60 votes, including six Republicans," Manchin said. "But how do you pay for it? For a three-month extension, it will cost $6.5 billion. For a full year, it would cost $25 billion or $26 billion."
That vote makes it possible for legislation to extend unemployment insurance to come up for debate and a vote in the Senate.
Manchin said, "I am looking for a reasonable 'pay-for.' One idea is ending dual eligibility, when you have a person hurt on the job who is receiving disability and unemployment benefits.
"If you are not allowed to draw off of both, it would be a $5 billion savings."
Manchin said he will not vote for any long-term increase in unemployment eligibility if the legislation doesn't include a "pay-for" provision.
Manchin believes the Senate and the House might reach an agreement on unemployment benefits by next week.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is working to reach that agreement with Reps. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.
Secretary of State Natalie Tenant, a Democratic candidate running to fill Rockefeller's Senate seat after he retires next January, asked Congress to restore unemployment benefits on Tuesday and to focus on creating new jobs.
"Washington was all too happy to bail out Wall Street banks. But while thousands of hard-working West Virginians were laid off over the holidays, Congress took a vacation instead of helping folks feed their families while they look for work," Tennant said.
Tennant's press release also pointed out:
* 6,300 West Virginians lost unemployment insurance on December 28, because Congress took no action.
* "The lapse in unemployment insurance will cost West Virginia $1.9 million this week alone."
* Up to 16,000 West Virginians will lose unemployment insurance in the coming months if Congress takes no action.
Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has not commented on the current unemployment insurance cuts.
Capito is also running for Rockefeller's seat in the upcoming November election.
At the end of his teleconference, Manchin reiterated his opposition to continued military engagement in Afghanistan.
"My goal is to get out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014. I am of the mindset that all our money and all the military might in the world will not change that part of the world.
"We need to say, 'Adios. We are out of there. You are on your own,' " Manchin said.
"There will still be some strategic forces in Afghanistan. But as far as being in the countryside and trying to change the culture, we should absolutely withdraw from that."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.