Unemployment Insurance Votes Possible in Both Chambers WednesdayJune 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
It’s going to be a big day in both chambers of Congress on the issue we’ve been tracking steadily on this blog for weeks — extending unemployment insurance benefits for the millions of unemployed individuals who have had their payments cut off since late May. Here’s what you need to know to follow today’s votes.
After failing on Tuesday to pass a stand-alone unemployment insurance bill under expedited rules, Democrats in the House have tentatively scheduled another vote on the bill for today, this time under normal rules that require only a simply majority of 217 votes to pass. Democrats had 261 votes for the bill yesterday, including the support of 30 Republicans (it didn’t pass because a 2/3rds majority was needed under the rules), so it should have no problems passing today under normal rules. The “rule” governing the debate of the bill that was approved by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday night limits the length of the debate and does not allow for any amendments.
The House bill (H.R. 5618) would extend the filing deadline for extended unemployment insurance benefits until Nov. 30, 2010. It would not create a new fifth tier of benefits for those who have exhausted the maximum 99 weeks of benefit payments.
On the Senate side, Democrats Tuesday evening announced their fourth iteration of H.R. 4213, the awkwardly-named “American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010.” The latest version of the bill is severely trimmed back from what it was a month ago, but it’s still not a stand-alone unemployment insurance bill. In addition to extending the filing deadline for extended unemployment insurance until November 30, 2010, it would extend for three months the closing deadline for first-time homebuyers trying to get the $8,000 tax credit approved in the 2009 stimulus bill. The new version of the Senate bill also contains about $145 million in new revenue raisers, made up of changes to the Travel Promotion Act, recession of Defense funds, and allowing the IRS to disclose prisoners’ tax information to state prison officials.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] has filed for cloture (a motion to break a filibuster that requires 60 votes to pass) on Tuesday night, setting up a vote on cloture for Thursday morning at the latest. Reid is hopeful that he can strike a deal with the Republicans to allow the cloture vote to take place this evening because the Senate is scheduled to spend Thursday morning honoring the life of recently-deceased Sen. Robert Byrd [D, WV]. Reid has already “filled the tree,” a parliamentary maneuver that blocks anyone else from offering amendments to the bill.
At this moment, Democrats do not seem to have the 60 votes needed to pass cloture. WIth the passing of Sen. Byrd, they now hold 58 Senate seats. Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe [ME] last week sent a letter to Senate Democratic leaders asking for a vote on a stand-alone unemployment bill and is expected to join the Democrats on this vote. But her “yes” vote will only offset Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE], who is expected to vote “no” because the bill is not fully offset with new revenues. So, the Democrats still need two more Republican votes to pass cloture.
Sen. Johnny Isakson [R, GA] has been a main supporter of extending the closing date for the homebuyer tax credit. He even co-sponsored an amendment on it with Reid to a previous version of the bill. Putting the closing date extension in the bill is likely designed to attract Isakson’s support for the full package. But Isakson is up for re-election in November and, like the rest of the Republicans, likely doesn’t want to vote in favor of the $34 billion in new deficit spending for unemployment insurance benefits.
What happens if the Senate does figure out a way to pass its bill? In that case, we would be looking at two different bills — a standalone UI bill in the House and a unemployment/homebuyer tax credit/miscellaneous revenue-raisers bill in the Senate. As you know, both chambers have to pass the same exact version of a bill before it can be signed into law, so some other action to reconcile the two chambers’ differences will have to be taken. The most likely scenario if the Senate passes their bill is that they would just send it over to the House, which should have no problem finding a simple majority in favor to pass it. On Tuesday, the House passed a stand-alone version of the homebuyer tax create closing date extension by an overwhelming vote of 409-5, so clearly its addition to the UI bill only helps with Republican support.