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Congress: Unemployment help extended

"With no end in sight to the country's job market woes, the House has agreed to give the jobless in a majority of states another 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits," the AP reports. "The bill, which passed the House 331-83, approves the extra three months of benefits for those jobless living in 27 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, with unemployment rates topping 8.5 percent. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate. The longtime unemployed in states with lower levels of joblessness would not get the extension."

Roll Call looks at the machinations among Senate Finance Committee members: "Since Baucus issued his original $856 billion health care proposal last week, Finance Democrats have held extensive discussions to plot their markup strategy. And while some progress was made, committee member and Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) acknowledged Tuesday that no agreement was reached over whether to strip the co-ops in favor of a public insurance option." 

The Hill calls it more of the same: "At long last, the Senate Finance Committee began marking up a bill Tuesday that would overhaul the U.S. healthcare system. But little appeared to have changed. The opening statements delivered by 22 senators offered more of the same rhetoric that has characterized the healthcare reform debate for months." 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is reaching out to Republican leaders on health care, specifically Minority Whip Eric Cantor and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA), who is a doctor and delivered the GOP response to President Obama's speech to the joint address of Congress. Boustany accepted Hoyer's offer to meet.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is delivering the keynote address at the North American Strategic Leadership Forum this morning.

And the Ensign exodus continues...  His legislative director and  deputy chief of staff are both leaving, Roll Call reports.