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Dems Overcome Initial GOP Filibuster of Unemployment Benefits

April 12, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate today came one step closer to extending unemployment benefits after failing to do before the Easter recess and causing 200,000 unemployed people per week to have their benefits expire.

Today’s vote was on a motion to overcome a Republican filibuster of debating H.R.4851, the Continuing Extension Act of 2010. The bill would extend the filing deadline for people who are eligible for the next tier of unemployment insurance until May 5, 2010. It would not create a fifth tier of benefits, so peple who use up their 99 weeks of UI benefits would not be affected by the bill.

Today’s vote was approved 60-34 with Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA], Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME], Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] and Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] voting with the Democrats.

Most Republicans voted against the bill because they want it to be paid for with unused funds from the stimulus bill (H.R.1). Democrats object to offsetting the cost of the UI benefits extensions with stimulus funding because it would weaken the stimulative effects of the UI extension.

The Senate will now move to 30 more hours of debating whether or not to debate the bill. After that, the Democrats can hold another cloture vote on whether or not to begin debate of the bill itself. If that motion is approved (it will take 60 votes), the Republicans can force another 30 hours of debate of the bill before the Senate takes a final vote, which would require a simple majority of 50 votes to pass. It’s customary to skip this final debate period and allow a final vote after the second cloture motion has been approved.

The House has already passed the bill, so it will be sent to President Obama as soon as the Senate is done with it, which could happen by the end of this week.

Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent points out that the bill will not pay back lost benefits for those whose benefits expired while Congress was on break or this week before the bill becomes law:

Trouble is, the House-passed bill isn’t retroactive. That means that Senate lawmakers, if they hope to help those people falling off the rolls early this month, would have to alter the bill on the Senate floor. Depending on whether or not the Republicans agree to speed debate on the bill, passage might not come until the of this week, leaving tens of thousands more unemployed workers to lose their benefits in the meantime.

And even then, the altered bill would have to return to the House for a second approval.

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said today that the Democrats still don’t have a plan for retroactivity.

Quick Update: CongressDaily ($) reports that the next cloture vote, on proceeding to debate of the actual bill, could very well fail unless some kind of deal is struck to pay for the bill or allow votes on Republican amendments:

Republican leaders are not whipping tonight’s vote, one senior aide said. But GOP resistance is expected to stiffen if no deal is reached with Democrats on an offset. Republican leaders will likely to whip members to vote “no” on a cloture vote to end debate on the bill later in the week if they have not reached a pay-for deal by that time.

Collins’ spokesman said she supports starting debate on the measure but wants to ensure the bill is offset. Her vote for cloture today would not signal she will vote for the bill or on a future cloture motion if the bill continues to lack a pay-for, he said.

Republican leaders are in discussions with Democrats to allow votes on GOP amendments. Those votes would likely come Wednesday on an amendment to offset the costs and on a budget point of order.

After the cloture vote, Democrats will seek agreement not to wait 30 hours before starting votes on amendments, but Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., possibly joined by other conservatives, plans to force all time to be used, Senate aides said. That means passage of the bill is unlikely before Thursday.

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