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Unemployment Benefits Extension Vote Set for Tuesday

October 23, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

For the past three weeks, Democrats in the Senate have been trying to quickly pass an extension of unemployment benefits for the growing number of long-term unemployed Americans, only to have their bill blocked each time by the Republicans. Earlier this week, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] filed for cloture on the bill in an attempt to overcome the Republican-led opposition and move the bill forward towards becoming law. The vote on cloture, which will require 60 votes to pass and will put every member of the Senate down on record, is scheduled for Tuesday.

“On an issue like this that should transcend party labels, we had high hopes that Senate Republicans would stand with us. But the disturbing Republican trend of stonewalling any progress continues,” Reid said in a statement after scheduling the vote.

According to the National Employment Law Project, 400,000 unemployed Americans exhausted their unemployment benefits in September and another 200,000 will do so by the end of October. That averages out to 7,000 people per day reaching the end of their benefits in the face of an increasingly bleak job market.

The Senate Democrats’ bill would extend unemployment insurance benefits for jobless Americans who have exhausted their benefits by 14 more weeks. In states with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent, the benefits would be extended for an additional 6 weeks on top of that. As Adam Doster at Progress Illinois notes, the bill will not grant the benefits retroactively for people who exhaust their benefits before the bill is signed into law.

The bill is in the form of an amendment, S. Amdt. 2668, to the House version, H.R. 3548, which was approved by the House on September 22nd by a vote of 331-83. The House version is significantly weaker. It would only extend the benefits by 13 weeks and only in states with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent. That would leave about 20 states without the extension, even though many of those states have cities and geographic regions within them where the jobless rates are well above 10 percent.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly said that they do not oppose extending the benefits, they just want it to be paid for with stimulus funds instead of a continuation of the unemployment tax on businesses.

But in addition to the funding issue, Republicans have been trying to use the bill as a vehicle for several unrelated amendments on issues such as illegal immigration, funding for ACORN and an extension of the first-time homebuyers’ tax credit. The Republicans know that their amendments would not pass on their own and are trying to use the politically popular unemployment bill to squeeze them through. “These are tactics that Republicans have used in the past to delay,” an aide to Majority Leader Reid told Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent. “It seems as if they aren’t negotiating in good faith on this.”

Democrats are hoping to fend off all Republican amendments on Tuesday and pass a clean bill that can be sent quickly to a House-Senate conference committee for reconciliation and then back to each chamber for one more final vote.

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