Democrats in both the House and Senate planned to vote on bills today that would extend unemployment benefits through the end of November for people who have been laid off for long stretches. House Democrats postponed a vote scheduled for yesterday.
Democratic leaders were hoping to pass the extension before Congress goes on a weeklong Independence Day recess.
Without an extension, every week a new 200,000 of the nearly 7 million people who have been without a job for at least six months will lose their unemployment benefits. About 1.3 million have already lost benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said.
"We have a basic responsibility to help our constituents respond to emergencies," said Reid (D-Nev.).
"We have a fundamental obligation not to deny them the help they need when they need it the most."
Congressional Democrats began the year with an aggressive agenda of passing a series of bills designed to create jobs. Only one has become law, offering tax breaks to companies that hire unemployed workers. Others stalled as lawmakers, after hearing from angry voters, became wary of adding to the national debt, which stands at $13 trillion.
Obama has urged lawmakers to spend about $50 billion to help states pay for Medicaid programs and to avoid teacher layoffs, but Democrats in Congress have been unable to come up with the votes.
"This is crucial for America and crucial to the citizens of our states," Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said at a Washington news conference with governors from New York, Maryland, Washington, Kansas, Washington and Michigan.
Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession.
However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about adding to the national debt.
"No one's disputing the value of these very important programs," said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. "But we also have to have tough choices and we also need to live within our means."