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What's Been Happening With the Unemployment Extension Bill?

July 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: New info on what’s happening Tuesday — click here to see the update.

With all the work that’s been going on in the Senate this week on financial reform, the small business lending bill and other things, it may seem like the Democrats are doing nothing on the unemployment insurance bill while they wait for an interim senator from West Virginia to be announced. But that’s not the case. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, Senate Dems executed two important procedural actions that will ensure that when the new senator is seated and they can take up the bill, they can take the quickest route possible under Senate rules to get it passed.

Here’s what those actions look like in the Congressional Record — From Tuesday:

And from Wednesday:

So, why is Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D, RI] calling asking for a second reading of the unemployment extension bill and objecting to his own request in the same sentence, and why is Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] objecting to any further proceedings with the bill?

The answer, of course, is that they are using Senate Rule XIV to skip the committee process and put the bill directly on the Senate calendar for floor consideration. Paragraph 4 of that rule states that "every bill and joint resolution introduced on leave, and every bill and joint resolution of the House of Representatives which shall have received a first and second reading without being referred to a committee, shall, if objection be made to further proceeding thereon, be placed on the Calendar.” So, Senator Whitehouse first objected to having the second reading occur on the same day as the first in order to avoid automatic committee referral under Paragraph 3 of the rule, and then Reid objected to further proceeding of the bill because, under Paragraph 4, the next motion in order after the second reading would have been referring the bill to committee. The acting Senate President followed suit and placed the bill on the calendar for consideration under the requirements of Rule XIV.

As you know, under regular order, bills must be approved by a committee before they can be considered on the floor. The Senate could have followed regular order and brought up one of their own unemployment insurance bills that has been cleared by committee. H.R. 4213, for example, was cleared by the Senate Finance Committee on March 1st. But that bill is different than the one that was passed by the House on July 1st (H.R. 5618), so it would have to be reconciled with the House-passed bill before it could be signed into law. The reconciled version would also have to go back for an extra vote in both the Senate and House to make sure that both chambers did, in fact, pass the same exact version of the bill.

In order to avoid those extra steps, Senate Dems are moving forward with the bill passed by the House on July 1st. But there is a trade-off here — H.R. 5618 does not include the extra $25 per week from the Federal Additional Compensation program (FAC) that was initiated in the 2009 stimulus bill. That program would be terminated under the bill passed by the House on July 1st, but it would be extended under H.R.4213. In other words, Senate Dems have chosen to sacrifice the extra $25 per week in order to get this bill done and signed into law a few days — or even a week or more — sooner.

As you can see on the Senate Democrats calendar, the new West Virginia senator is now scheduled to be sworn in at 2:15 p.m. E.T. on Tuesday, and then immediately after, at 2:30, they will begin voting on the unemployment extension bill. That vote will be on a motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed. Once that passes, a cloture motion on the bill itself will be in order for Thursday morning. After that the bill has to be voted on within 30 hours, so, by Friday afternoon, though it is common for the minority party to allow the vote on the bill to take place immediately after the vote on cloture (for example, that’s what happened today on financial reform conference report). For more detailed info on these procedural steps, see this blog post.

Bottom line: once the interim WV senator is sworn in, and barring any surprising last-minute defections, the Democrats will have the 60 votes they need to break any Republican attempt to stop the bill from passing, and they will be able to do it by the end of the week.

P.S. — since I know folks will be asking: no, the bill will not create additional weeks of benefits beyond the tiers that Congress let expire on June 2. Ninety-nine weeks will still be the maximum benefits period available. That means that after November 30, when this bill is set to sunset, anyone receiving benefits will no longer be eligible to move into the next tier after their current tier expires.

P.P.S. The bill will pay back benefits retroactively for however long you have been without your cheques due to congressional inaction.


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