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Latest on the Unemployment/Tax Extenders Bill

June 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

This from subscription-only CongressDaily is at least not bad news for those of you hoping that the Senate will pass legislation extending the unemployment insurance filing deadline this week: "Senate Democrats are back at the drawing board, working again this week to pass a version of a bill extending tax breaks and unemployment benefits and other programs after they lost cloture votes on two versions last week. [...] Democrats still want to extend unemployment benefits, which have been expiring for tens of thousands of Americans since the start of the month. But aides said it is too soon to say what else will be included in the package offered this week."

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Senate Democrats tried once again last night to overcome a budget point of order against their unemployment insurance/tax extenders bill, this time on a pared-down version, and failed 56-40. Sixty votes were needed. Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] and Sen. Joe Lieberman [I, CT] joined all Republicans in voting down the bill.

The path forward from here is unclear to say the least. Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] tried after the failing vote to pass each piece of the bill -- the unemployment benefits, the doc-fix, the Medicaid money -- as stand-alone measures by unanimous consent. But, each time, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] objected, citing deficit concerns. McConnell then offered to pass by unanimous consent a version of the bill that would be paid for with stimulus funds, but Reid objected to that.

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The Senate is already way behind on passing the unemployment insurance and tax extenders bill and it's not clear that any of the pending compromises will bring them to the 60 votes they need. To make things worse, Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK] is now using an infamous dilatory procedure known as a "clay pigeon" to force votes on dozens of amendments. Roll Call ($) reports:

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The Shrinking Unemployment Bill

June 17, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Once again, Democrats are downsizing H.R. 4213, the unemployment insurance/tax extenders bill, in order to lessen its impact on the deficit and round up the support to pass it. The bill has been floundering in the Senate for weeks, and yesterday, it officially stalled out after the Democrats failed 45-52 to overcome an important procedural hurdle requiring 60 votes to pass.

According to Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT] and the Senate Finance Committee, these are the big changes in the revised bill:

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After two weeks of solid debate -- and two weeks of people having their unemployment insurance cut off because of congressional inaction -- the Senate this morning took their first test vote on passing H.R. 4213, the "American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010." They failed miserably. The final vote count was 45-52. Sixty votes were needed to proceed.

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The Unemployment Debate Rages On

June 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Earlier this morning I passed along word of what appeared to be an emerging deal to take a little bit of unemployment insurance money out of the tax extenders bill in order to solidify the Democrats' center-right flank and and pass it by the end of the week. But as the day progresses, that report looks more and more premature. This PM update from CongressDaily, which I'll extract a good chunk of because it's behind a paywall and because I know a lot of folk are watching this closely, illustrates the morass of competing concerns the Senate is still slogging through:

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Peter Cohn at Congress Daily ($) thinks a deal may be in hand: "An amendment from Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to strike $25 a week in extra unemployment compensation from a nearly $140 billion package of benefit payments and tax breaks could shore up support among wavering senators concerned about its deficit impact. [...] Tester's amendment would only trim about $6 billion from that figure. But it could be seen as a gesture toward the position espoused by Blue Dogs and Senate Democrats like Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Evan Bayh of Indiana, who are holding out for cost cuts."

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It has now been a full two weeks since Congress left for recess without finalizing their bill to extend unemployment benefits, and there is still no end in sight for the bill. As a result, hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans have been suddenly cut-off from their only source of income. Most lawmakers from both parties agree that unemployment benefits need to be extended, so what's holding up the bill?

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Senate Democrats are honing in on a compromise for moving forward with the jobs/tax extenders bill. According to Congress Daily, the plan is to soften a provision raising taxes on hedge fund managers who have been paying discount rates due to a loophole in the tax code. Unemployed workers whose health care subsidies were cut during the House's work on the bill would not see any gains under the new compromise.

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On May 28, before leaving for recess, the House split the extender bill, known as the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, into two pieces and passed them both. But by the time the House finished their work on the bill, the Senate had already left town, causing the bill to linger as unfinished business over the week-long recess. As a result, on June 2, unemployment insurance benefits began expiring for hundreds of thousands of people, and the pay cut for doctors is set to take effect imminently (the only reason it hasn't happened yet is that Medicare has temporarily postponed its claims processing).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [D, NV] initially said that passing the bill would be the first thing the Senate does on Monday morning. But, as The Hill is reporting, it now looks like that isn't going to happen. Senate Democrats have yet to schedule a debate on the bill, and they likely do not have the votes to pass it in its current form.

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House Passes Scaled-Back Jobs Bill

May 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

After cutting COBRA health care benefits for the unemployed and Medicaid funds for states with budget problems, the House has finally passed their economic recovery bill, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010.

But they are a day late. The Senate adjourned this afternoon and won't be back to vote on the bill until Monday, June 7. The current unemployment benefits extension that was approved by Congress in April is set to expire on June 2. According to the Department of Labor, more than 300,000 unemployed people will exhaust their current tier of benefits and be left without a lifeline by the time the Senate gets back to take up the bill.

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To most liberals and many economists, the first $787 billion economic stimulus bill (H.R.1) didn't do enough to promote job growth and general recovery given the depth of the recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis. The national unemployment rate, for example, is still at 9.5%, and in areas that were hit especially hard by the recession, the unemployment rate is still going up.

So, the Democrats have prepared a second, smaller stimulus bill of about $127 billion in new short-term spending called the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, and they are planning to hold a vote on it in the House on today. Late on Wednesday night, the bill was revised. Here's what's in the final bill.

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After initially faltering, the Senate last night approved a substitute amendment to the unemployment filing extension bill (H.R. 4851), which indicates that the votes are place and the bill should pass today (if Republicans agree to allow a vote) or early next week (if the Republicans demand more procedural votes).

Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] provided the Democrats with the crucial GOP cross-over vote they needed to break a Republican filibuster of the amendment. He's expected to vote with the Democrats on the bill form here on out.

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Earlier today, Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT] brought up an amendment to the bill (H.R. 4851) to extend the extension of the deadline from May 5th until June 2nd. It also would extended the other expiring programs in the bill until June, like COBRA health benefits, national flood insurance and the 21% scheduled Medicare payment cut. Additionally, it would pay benefits back retroactively for those whose have lapsed over the past couple weeks because of congressional inaction.

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The Week Ahead in Congress

April 12, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Spring break is over. The Senate comes back to work today after a two-week break to take on a huge slate of unfinished business. Confirming a new Supreme Court Justice, ratifying a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia, finishing financial reform, immigration reform and climate change legislation, and extending unemployment benefits are all looming before the Senate right now.

The House comes back to work tomorrow, though having already passed hundreds of bills that are lingering in the Senate, their work load will be significantly lighter. We'll be covering it all on this blog, but before we get ahead of ourselves, here's an what Congress is up to this week.

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