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Congress set to extend jobless benefits, other funds

WASHINGTON - Congress will pass legislation aimed at keeping certain jobless benefits, highway and transit money and other government programs funded, Sen. Jon Kyl, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, said Sunday.

Several programs expired at midnight, and Congress has failed to extend them because of an objection by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Bunning wants the $10-billion price offset by budget reductions.

The Senate is not expected to act until Tuesday at the earliest, which means as of this morning, certain extended jobless benefits will not be available. Neither will some highway or transit funds, small business loans or help for newly laid-off workers for their insurance premiums.

Kyl told "Fox News Sunday," flatly, "it will pass." The Arizona senator, though, also sympathized with Bunning.

Recently, Congress adopted "pay as you go" rules mandating in many cases that new programs must be paid for. So why, Bunning asked, if these extensions are so popular, can't Congress find the money to fund them?

"Congress just passed the so-called pay-go legislation, which is supposed to require we find offsets or other savings if we're going to spend money," Kyl said. "And what's the first thing we do? We exempt this bill from it."

But he said it will pass, as it extends the programs only about a month. The Senate plans to begin work this week on a longer-term extension, which is expected to be controversial or, as Kyl put it, "a different issue." Democrats continued to express anger over lost funds.

"Because of one senator's irresponsible actions, over 61,000 Michigan workers will begin losing their unemployment benefits on Monday," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). "These workers and their families cannot afford to wait for help."

Most people already getting extra jobless benefits are unlikely to be affected.

Those who will feel the impact could include people who've exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits and qualify for more aid under federal guidelines.

Anyone laid off after March 1 no longer would be able to get federal help to pay health insurance premiums; the program now pays 65 percent of the cost for certain workers.

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