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Senate Passes Procedural Hurdle For Extending Jobless Benefits

October 27, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

After a month of delay, the Senate this afternoon approved a motion to move forward on their bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits (H.R. 3548). The motion to overcome Republican objections and proceed to an official debate of the bill was approved by a vote of 87-13. Full roll call details on OpenCongress forthcoming. Full roll call details here.

Click here to see a list of the 13 Republicans who voted “no.”

The bill under discussion would extend benefits for people who have exhausted them by 14 weeks in all states and by an additional 6 percent in states with unemployment rates above 8.5 percent.

The House approved a scaled-down version of the bill on September 22nd by a vote of 331-83. Since then, Senate Democrats have tried at least four time to move the bill quickly through the Senate under unanimous consent agreements, but Republicans rejected the agreements each time. They wanted the bill to be brought up under regular order and fully debated so they could offer amendment, some of which are totally unrelated to the unemployment issue. Not wanting to have the bill larded up with unrelated political baggage, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] kept trying to broker a deal with the Republicans to let the bill through under unanimous consent. Last Wednesday, Reid gave up and filed a cloture petition on the bill in order to force the issue to the Senate floor.

Today’s vote on cloture is a big step forward for the bill, but it doesn’t guarantee final passage. The bill will now be opened up for amendments and any poison pills – such as the Republicans’ E-Verify and ACORN amendments – could derail the underlying bill if they get added. Republicans could hold this pre-debate period open for up to 30 hours, but they will probably allow the bill to move to a debate sooner.

A bipartisan group of senators had been planning to add an amendment to the bill to extend the $8,000 homebueyrs tax credit and a business tax break from the stimulus bill that is set to expire, but news reports indicate that they are backing away from the amendment and will let the unemployment bill move forward as a stand-alone bill. If Democrats can fend off any Republican amendments that come up for a vote, they will be able to send a clean version of their bill to the House for a quick vote on agreeing to the Senate amendment. Then it’s off to the President who is expected to sign it into law immediately.

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