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Just One Vote

June 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

A single senator now stands between millions of unemployed Americans and the extension of unemployment insurance benefits they need in order to feed their families and gas up their cars to get to job interviews.

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Since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and oil began gushing in the Gulf, Senate Democrats have tried repeatedly, under unanimous consent agreements, to move legislation to lift the $75 million cap on oil companies' liability for economic damages caused by spills and gushers. Each time they tried, they were blocked by Republicans who argue that raising the liability cap would discourage competition in the offshore oil-drilling industry.

So the Democrats are moving forward with plan two -- advancing the bill under regular order, through the committee process to the Senate floor. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed the bill today, and they added a major strengthening amendment that will make the Republicans who objected to the original bill like it even less.

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The National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress are out with a new report today that explains just what a historical anomaly Congress's failure to extend unemployment insurance benefits is given the dismal state of the jobs market.

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It's going to be a big day in both chambers of Congress on the issue we've been tracking steadily on this blog for weeks -- extending unemployment insurance benefits for the millions of unemployed individuals who have had their payments cut off since late May. Here's what you need to know to follow today's votes.

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As many of you out there are painfully aware, congressional Democrats have been been struggling for weeks to pass an extension of unemployment insurance payments for the millions of people who have lost their jobs in the economic crisis. Republicans have blocked the UI bills repeatedly in the Senate over the past month and did so again today in the House. But between their failing votes on extending the UI lifeline, the Democrats have been having more success with a bill that is designed to actually stimulate the jobs market. The "State Small Business and Credit Initiative Act of 2010" (H.R. 5297) passed the House on June 17 by a vote of 413-0. Today, the Senate voted to break a Republican filibuster of the bill by a vote of 66-33. The House Majority Whip provides this summary of the bill:

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Congress Links

June 29, 2010 - by

  • Rep. Carolyn McCarthy [D, NY-4] has proposed a bill to end coroporal punishment in schools. (ABCNews)
  • President Obama urges Congress to work on an immigration bill. (WashingtonTimes)
  • Congress asks Toyota to hand over more documents regarding recallled vehicles. (WSJ)
  • Democrats may cut $19 million bank fee in the financial reform bill. (BusinessWeek)
  • Senate Democrats are willing to scale back their energy bill to get Republican support. (AP)
  • The House has voted to extend homebuyer credit meaning that consumers now have three more months to complete their purchases. (AP)
  • Senator Byrd's death complicated Democrats plans to pass financial reform. (CBSNews)
  • Senate Democrats may split Afghan war spending bill and domestic spending package so Democrats can vote on each issue seperately. (Politico)
  • House Republican Leader John Boehner [R-OH] said that he would support raising the retirement age to 70. (Pittsburg Tribune-Review)

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The House today failed to pass a stand-alone bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits (H.R. 5618). The final vote was 261-155. 277 votes (a 2/3rds majority of those present and voting) were needed under the suspension of the rules procedure that was used by the Democrats in order to avoid Republican obstruction tactics.

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The House of Representatives this afternoon is scheduled to pass, under the expedited suspension of the rules procedure, a new, stand-alone bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits. The bill is H.R. 5618, the "Restoration of Emergency Unemployment Compensation Act of 2010." It was introduced yesterday by Rep. Jim McDermott [D, WA-7] and has one co-sponsor -- the powerful House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Sander Levin [D, MI-12].

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Congress Links

June 28, 2010 - by Moshe Bildner

The longest-serving senator in U.S history passes away. Obama's latest Supreme Court pick, Elana Kagan, began her Senate Judiciary Committee hearings today. States begin struggling to pay for social services because of the Senate's failure to pass the tax extenders bill. And reports suggest that Congress will take up climate change/energy legislation during the lame-duck session. That and more in today's roundup of links on Congress.

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Just a quick note here regarding the new, stand-alone unemployment insurance bill in the Senate and what its introduction last week means for the prospects of getting an extension passed. To be clear, the fact that it has been introduced does not in any way indicate that the congressional leadership intends to move on it. Any senator can introduce any bill on any issue they choose. They don't need consent from anyone else -- they simply draft it and drop it in a box. Senate workers then assign it a number and file it away with the tens of thousands of other bills that have been introduced this session. The vast majority of bills in Congress never go anywhere in the legislative process, and only about 4% of the bills that are introduced in a given session become law.

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The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R.4213), which would have extended unemployment insurance benefits, closed some tax loopholes and more, was officially abandoned last week after the Democrats failed to overcome a Republican filibuster for the third time. As a result, over a million uninsured people have had their unemployment insurance benefits cut off since they expired on June 2. But while the Democrats may have lost hope of ever passing H.R. 4213, they have recently introduced a new bill for the sole purpose of extending unemployment benefits.

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Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) died today, ending the longest ever career in the US Congress.  He was 92 years old. 

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The Week Ahead

June 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Democrats had been hoping to get final passage of the financial reform bill in the Senate and House this week before leaving for July 4 recess, but the death of Sen. Robert Byrd [D, WV] and Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA] surprising opposition to the conference report could throw a wrench in those plans. They will also likely be looking at passing a stand-alone extension of unemployment insurance benefits after failing last week to break a Republican filibuster of a bill containing a UI extension plus a swatch of tax and stimulus items. We'll be covering those stories as they develop this week. Meanwhile, here's what will be happening on the House floor:

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With the Senate's failure yesterday to extend unemployment benefits for the millions of Americans who have lost their job due to the financial crisis and are facing an extremely dire jobs situation, people are asking if President Obama can step in and use his executive power to do something. The short answer is no. Here's why.

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Transparency Bill Would Create Earmark Website

June 25, 2010 - by Hilary Worden

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to "to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there's a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent." A pair of bi-partisan bills (S.3335 in the Senate and H.R.5258 in the House) would do just that. Titled the Earmark Transparency Act of 2010, the bills would make information about earmarks easily accessible online.

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