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Senate Set for Lame-Duck Votes on Unemployment and Big-Three Bailout

November 13, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

This has been a week of back-and-forth between President-elect Barack Obama, President Bush and Democratic leaders in Congress over bailing out the auto industry and passing an economic stimulus package, but a way forward seems to have finally emerged.

New York Times:

>Mr. Reid, on Thursday, said that he would open a lame-duck session in the Senate on Monday, hoping to move forward with legislation that would extend unemployment benefits and to attach an amendment providing aid for the auto companies.
>Aides to Ms. Pelosi said the House would be brought back into session as of 1 p.m. Wednesday and would remain on standby, awaiting action by the Senate.

As the Times article explains, the prospects of enacting an auto industry bailout and a broader economic stimulus package have dwindled throughout the week and at this point both are basically being put off until January. Earlier in the week, there was some indication that the unemployment benefits extension, despite last week’s worse-than-expected numbers, was going to be held hostage to the auto industry bailout or the broader stimulus package, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

The way I read the article, the Senate on Monday will vote on H.R. 6867, a bill to extend unemployment benefits that was passed by the House in October, right after they passed the Wall Street bailout. The bill passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 368-28 and it has a fairly good chance of passing in the Senate next week. Neither Obama or Biden will be in the Senate for the lame-duck session on Monday, so the Democrats will need to find 11 Republicans to vote with them to overcome the 60-vote barrier to passing the bill. They’ll also be voting on an amendment to bailout the auto industry, but that is expected to fail, in which case they’ll move forward with just the unemployment bill.

The Senate extended unemployment benefits once before this session in June as part of a war funding bill. Twenty-eight Republicans voted for the bill then; this is the list of Republicans that aren’t completely opposed to an unemployment extension and could possibly vote for the unemployment bill on Monday.

UPDATE: Earlier on Thursday, The Hill reported a different legislative agenda for the lame-duck session:

>Senate Democrats are putting the finishing touches on next week’s legislative agenda, which will be dominated by an economic stimulus plan and consisting of little else.
>Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wants to move a package with four or five components, including $25 billion in loans for the auto industry, aid to states struggling with Medicaid-caused budget deficits, increased infrastructure spending and possible additional spending on food stamps. Those ideas had been suggested by Democratic leaders, but Reid had not actually finalized the agenda until Wednesday afternoon, said a senior Democratic aide.
>It is unclear whether the package will include provisions long sought by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that would allow bankruptcy judges to modify the terms of mortgages. Republicans have repeatedly resisted those provisions.

I’ll update again once there’s some more official word on how things are going to go down next week.

UPDATE 2: via an anonymous comment left on the H.R. 6867 OpenCongress bill page, here’s a letter sent today from Majority Leader Reid to Minority Leader McConnell:

>Dear Mr. Leader:
>I am writing to again see if Senate Republicans would be willing to work on a bipartisan basis to address the urgent problems facing our nation’s economy.
>As you know, millions of American families are struggling to make ends meet. Unemployment has increased, foreclosures have exploded, retirement savings have eroded, and consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Businesses are suffering from declining sales, and many are preparing for a significant downturn. In response, economists of all political stripes have called for Congress to pass an aggressive economic recovery package.
>In my view, the adoption of a robust recovery package should be the top priority of the upcoming lame duck session. That is why I intend to seek consent on a bill to create jobs, prevent large tax increases and cuts in state services, strengthen our nation’s manufacturing sector, and assist those struggling to find a job.
>Based on our conversation earlier this week, however, I understand that you currently oppose such a package and that Senate Republicans are prepared and able to block such legislation. This is disappointing and I hope you will reconsider.
>Unless I hear from you to the contrary, I plan to press forward with two provisions of that package – an extension of unemployment benefits, which passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 368-28 and legislation to protect the millions of workers at risk from the possible collapse of our domestic auto industry. These two provisions both address especially urgent needs and seem most likely to win your support and the support of your caucus.
>I would hope you would procedurally allow the necessary votes early next week.
>Best Regards,
>Harry Reid

This letter seems to indicate that the above NYT article is more accurate than the Hill article. But then there’s this article from CNN that makes it sound like the voting on Monday will be on an entirely new piece of legislation that has yet to be made public: “In an attempt to garner more support for the bill, Reid said an extension of unemployment benefits would also be added to the legislation.”

Btw, I talked to a staffer in Reid’s office, and she said she could not divulge any information about the legislative process next week. So, for now, we’ll have to keep deciphering these cryptic news articles.

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