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Dems Fail Again to Get 60 on the Unemployment Bill

June 18, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

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.

The reason the Dems don’t split off pieces of the bill — say, the unemployment benefits section — and try to pass them separately with a full debate is that it would give Republicans an opportunity to stall all Senate action for a week or longer. The Republicans may not necessarily oppose the unemployment benefits extension or the doc fix, but they will filibuster and force an extended debate in order to eat up precious Senate time that the Democrats want to use for other things this session, like energy legislation, responding to Citizens United, and immigration reform. Sen. Tom Coburn’s [R, OK] move yesterday to employ the “clay pigeon” procedure and force votes on dozens of contentious amendments illustrates the kind of tools Republicans could use on each piece of this bill if the Dems tried splitting it up.

Under Senate rules, in order to bring the revised version back up for another vote, Reid would have had to vote against the cloture motion on the budget point of order yesterday. He didn’t, which indicates that we are going to see a deeper retooling of the bill to hit the floor next week. Most likely, the Dems will remove the $24 billion in state Medicaid aid, which would bring the total net deficit impact down to $31 billion. After last night’s vote, Nelson explained that he voted “no” because parts of the bill are still not paid for. “I want to see it all offset,” he said. It seem unlikely that lowering urn-offset spending to $31 billion would win over Nelson, so the Democrats are probably looking at winning over a few moderate Republicans, namely Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME], Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME] and Sen. Scott Brown [R, MA].

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