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House to Vote on Stand-Alone Unemployment Insurance Bill Today

June 29, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

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].

This is expected to pass easily in the House, as indicated by its place on the suspension calendar. It would then be sent immediately to the Senate to give the upper chamber a chance to pass it before the end of the week when they are scheduled to leave for their July 4 recess.

Although the House is generally supportive of a robust benefits extension for the uninsured, Rep. McDermott has purposefully limited the scope of this bill to what he thinks can pass  the Senate. The bill would not extend the Federal Additional Compensation program from the stimulus bill that provided an extra $25 per month for benefits recipients, and it only extends UI benefits to November 30, 2010, one month shorter than the Senate’s stand-alone bill. It would not create a new fifth tier of benefits. 99 weeks would still be the maximum amount of time unemployed individuals could receive UI payments under this bill.

Both chambers have to pass the exact same version of the bill before it can be snet to President Obama to be signed into law. These changes make it more likely that the Senate can simply agree to the bill, avoiding a situation where the two chambers ping-pong the bill back and forth with their own amendments until they can find an agreement.

It’s still unclear, though, if this has the support to pass in the Senate. For one thing, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV], who ultimately decides what bills get voted on, still wants to do unemployment insurance together with Medicaid funding and other unrelated tax issues. Additionally, only one Republican — Sen. Olympia Snowe [R, ME] — has said publicly so far that she would vote in favor of such bill. That means the Senate Dems may still be two votes short of the 60 they need to break an inevitable Republican filibuster.

UPDATE: Contrary to some reports I’m seeing on Twitter and Facebook, the House has no passed this bill yet. It was brought up and debated, but the vote was postponed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA]. Under House rules (Rule XX, CLause 8), it now must be voted on within two days. But it will likely be voted on sooner, probably tonight or early tomorrow.

The fact that Dems are trying to do this under suspension of the rules is giving them a little trouble. Suspension allows bills to pass quickly and without minority obstructionism tactics (no amendments can be offered and debate time is limited to 40 minutes), but they need 2/3rds support for it to pass under the procedure. That means the Dems will need about 35 Republicans to cross the aisle and vote with them on this. The Democratic leadership is surely busy behind the scenes right now working to win over Republicans (and the GOP leadership is undoubtedly working to keep wavering members from defecting).

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