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GOP Blocks Unemployment Insurance Bill, Senate Leaves for July 4th Recess

June 30, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

For the fourth time in a month, Senate Democrats on Wednesday night failed to win enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits (H.R. 4213). After the failed vote, the Senate adjourned for recess until July 12th.

“It is beyond disappointing that Republicans continue to stand almost lockstep against assistance for out-of-work Americans – especially since many of these same Republicans spent months protecting Wall Street and preserving tax cuts for CEOs who ship American jobs overseas,” Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] said after the vote.

The final tally was 58-38. 60 votes were needed under Senate rules to pass the motion on breaking the filibuster known as “cloture”. Majority Leader Reid voted “no” on the bill in order to preserve his right under Senate rules to bring the bill up again in the future for another vote, so the Democrats were actually just one vote shy of passing the motion. Republicans Sen. Susan Collins [ME] and Sen. Olympia Snowe [ME] voted with Democrats in favor of the bill. Conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson [D, NE] crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans agains it.

Sen. George Voinovich [R, OH] said after the vote that he would have provided the one vote Democrats needed to pass the cloture motion if some of it was paid for with money from the stimulus bill. “In order to move forward, yesterday I told Leader Reid that I would support extending unemployment insurance if Democrats would be willing to use some of the estimated $40 billion in unspent stimulus monies to help offset at least half of the stand-alone unemployment insurance extension," Voinovich said. “He flatly rejected this request even though Democratic Leadership was going to take $10 billion from the stimulus to help pay for business tax breaks just last week.”

After the vote, Reid said that the Senate will not vote on the bill again until a replacement for recently-deceased Sen. Robert Byrd [D, WV] is seated in the Senate. West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin (D) is in charge of appointing a replacement and he will likely do so over the July 4th recess.

By the time the Senate reconvenes on July 12, data from the Labor Department suggests that more than 2 million unemployed Americans will see their unemployment insurance benefits cut off due to the Republicans’ objections to the extension bill. Benefits began expiring for people on June 1st when the last extension of the benefits expired. Before then, unemployed individual were eligible for up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits under an extended, four-tier federal program created by the 2009 stimulus bill. Now that the federal program has been allowed to expire, newly unemployed individuals are eligible for a maximum of 26 weeks of state-provided benefits.

Still, people who have had their benefits cut off in the past month should expect to become eligible once again for the full 99 weeks and to have their lost benefits paid back to them retroactively. Wednesday’s vote makes it clear that as soon as a replacement for Byrd is seated in the Senate, the Democrats will have the 60 votes they need to overcome Republican opposition and pass the bill.

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