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Lame-Duck Senate to Vote on Unemployment Benefits Extension

November 19, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: If you’re looking for information regarding the unemployment insurance extension pending in October 2009, see this post, this portal on the OC Wiki and this bill page.

Congressional Democrats originally had a much grander vision of helping Main Street America during this lame-duck session. They hoped to help the U.S. auto industry avoid bankruptcy by giving them $25 billion in new government loans and enacting a far reaching economic stimulus package for the broader economy. But after reaching a stalemate on both those items, they’ve settled on working for the lowest common denominator, extending unemployment insurance benefits for those who have exhausted their benefits and still haven’t found work.

The unemployment bill the Senate will vote on Thursday morning, H.R. 6867, is the bill that the House approved in October, right after they signed off on the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street.

At a total cost of $6 billion, the unemployment benefits extension is a relatively small concession from Congress to Main Street America. But other than giving in to the Bush administration and changing the conditions they put on the $25 billion in loans they have already approved for the big-three automakers, it’s the only thing Congress can accomplish in the current political climate. Increased financial support for the American auto companies, as well as a major economic stimulus package with money for infrastructure projects and budget assistance for individual states has been put off until January, when Obama is in the White House and the Democrats’ majority in Congress is larger.

The unemployment bill to be voted on would provide for seven more weeks of unemployment insurance benefits for those whose benefits have run out. In states with an unemployment rate above six percent – like Rhode Island, Michigan and California – the bill would provide for 13 weeks extended of benefits. It is estimated that, without the bill, 1.1 million unemployed Americans will exhaust their benefits by the end of 2008.

In October it passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 367-28. The vote, which happened minutes after they approved the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, represented their attempt at bailout of Main Street. Only five Representatives – all Republicans – voted for the Wall Street bailout, but against the unemployment bill.

Every Democrat in the Senate, besides Barack Obama and Joe Biden, who won’t be there, is expected to vote in favor of the unemployment bill tomorrow, so it’s passage depends on at least 11 Republicans crossing the aisle to vote for the bill. Thirty-four Republican Senators voted in favor of the Wall Street bailout. We’ll be watching to see how many of them vote against this relatively miniscule Main Street bailout.

If the bill does pass the Senate, it is still unclear whether President Bush will sign it into law. In the not-too-distant past the Bush administration argued that the 6.3 percent national unemployment rate is below the level historically relied on to justify an unemployment insurance extension. But more recently the Administration has seemed open to the extension. At a recent press briefing, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said that President Bush was “very concerned” about the high unemployment rates in some states. “It’s one of the reasons that he agreed to the UI extension from – unemployment insurance extension that we provided in August,” she said. “And we’ll see what the Congress puts forward on that if they come back for a lame duck.”

UPDATE: The Bush administration today came out firmly in favor of the bill:

>The White House said on Thursday that President George W. Bush supported legislation that would extend unemployment benefits to ease the impact of the current economic crisis.
>"The financial and credit crisis has slowed our economy dramatically. It is having an impact on job creation," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
>"Because of the tight job market the president believes it would be appropriate to further extend unemployment benefits, and he would sign legislation that is now in front of Congress," she said. “We hope that they will be able to pass that before they leave for their recess.”

UPDATE 2: A little late with this update here, but I though I should mention that this bill has passed the Senate and officially been signed into law.

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