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What's Next for the Unemployment Extension Bill

July 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Congress reconvenes from their July 4th recess on Monday and one of their first orders of business will be extending unemployment insurance benefits for the more than 2 million Americans who have had their benefits cut off over the past month due to congressional inaction. Here’s a step-by-step rundown of what to watch for over the next several days as the pieces fall into place for getting the extension out of the Senate and signed into law so that millions of unemployed workers can finally get some relief.

Interim Senator Appointed — Now that the West Virginia Attorney General has issued his ruling on when the next election to replace the late Sen. Robert Byrd [D, WV] should take place, Governor Joe Manchin can pick an interim senator to fill Byrd’s seat in the meantime (see his shortlist). Manchin has been getting pressure from national Democrats to appoint an interim replacement as soon as possible, so we can expect an announcement on his decision soon, possibly even later today. (UPDATE: Manchin today said he would wait until after a special session of the West Virginia state legislature clarifies the law in regards to the next election to fill Byrd’s seat before he appoints an interim replacement.) The speed with which the attorney general issued his ruling on the election issue is a sign that that Gov. Manchin plans on satisfying the request from Washington to act quickly.

Interim Senator Sworn In — Byrd’s interim replacement will be sworn into the Senate relatively quickly. When Sen. Edward Kennedy [D, MA] passed away last year, it on took about 48 hours for his interim replacement, Paul Kirk, to be be sworn into the Senate after being tapped for the job by the Massachusetts Governor. If Governor Manchin picks a replacement for Byrd in the next couple days, there should be no problem getting them to D.C. by the time the Senate is scheduled to reconvene (Monday at 2 p.m.) for a swearing-in ceremony.

Filing for Cloture on Proceeding to the Bill — The Senate will most likely move forward with the version of the unemploymemty insurance bill that was passed by the House last week, H.R. 5618. That way, they won’t have to bounce the bill back to the House again before it can become law. The first step here will be for Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] to file for cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill. This will allow the Democrats to take a vote on overcoming the Republicans’ objections to even bringing the bill to the floor for debate.

Invoking Cloture on Proceeding to the Bill — One hour after the Senate convenes on the second day after the cloture motino was filed, the motion will be “ripe” and the Senate will vote on whether or not to debate the bill despite Republican opposition. If Reid files the cloture motion on Monday, the cloture vote will happen on Wednesday morning. If he delays filing until Tuesday for whatever reason, the vote would be pushed back to Thursday. When the vote takes place, it will require 60 senators voting in the affirmative for it to pass. With Byrd’s interim replacement voting, the Democrats are expected to have exactly 60 votes for this. Debate of the actual bill will then begin.

Invoking Cloture on the Bill Itself — Right after cloture is invoked on the motion to proceed, Reid will file for cloture on the bill itself. This will be a motion to end an inevitable Republican filibuster of the bill and bring it to a vote on final passage. Like the last cloture motion, this will be ripe and ready for a vote one hour after the Senate convenes on the second day after it was filed. That means we’re looking at a Friday vote on this at the earliest.

Passing the Bill — The last step in the process is a simple up-or-down vote on passing the bill. This will be the real test of how dedicated the Republicans are to gumming up the works. Under Senate rules, they could hold the post-cloture period open for up to 30 hours. But it is customary to allow the majority party to hold a vote on passage soon after they invoke cloture since cloture takes 60 votes and passage takes only 50. If the Republicans follow Senate custom and let the vote happen quickly, the bill could be out of Congress and on its way to the President’s desk by the end of next week. If they decide to stall, it will be pushed back to the weekend or next week.

Signing the Bill Into Law — As soon as the Senate approves final passage of the bill, it will be enrolled and sent to Obama to be signed into law. There should not be any delay at this stage since Obama is fully supportive of the extension.

Implementation — State Labor Department will begin fulfilling the new law as soon as the bill is signed into law. Reports indicate that states have been preparing for Congress to pass the extension for months, so there should be very little delay in getting checks sent out. Besides extending the filing deadline for poeople exhausting their current tier of benefits, the bill will require states to pay back benefits retroactively for people who have had their benefits cut off since June 2 due to congressionall inaction, so you can expect a lump-sum payment, or a series of checks, sometime soon following the enactment of the unemployment extension bill if you fall in that category.

Lots of moving parts here. This process could move quicker than what I described here — for example, Republicans could agree to a unamious consent agreement on proceeding to the bill instead of forcing the Dems to take the first cloture vote — or it could get slowed down at just about every step. To follow along with all of this over the next week or so, subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, or just keep checking back for updates. You can also stay in tough on Twitter and/or Facebook.

(Post updated to incorporate clarification of cloture rules from David Waldman.)

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