Updated 4:46 p.m. | The Senate easily cleared a 60-vote threshold Thursday to advance a bipartisan extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits.
With backing from Republicans, the Senate voted 65-34 to end a filibuster against bringing the bill up for debate. It'll still face the likelihood of another filibuster before final passage, expected next week.
Ten Republicans voted with Democrats to advance the bill: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Bob Corker of Tennessee, Dean Heller of Nevada, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania.
“Today’s bipartisan vote was a step in the right direction, but it is unconscionable that millions of Americans have had to wait this long for Congress to act and there is no reason this bipartisan solution should be further delayed,” Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed said in a statement. “The votes are there for final passage in the Senate. People are hurting and need this emergency assistance.”
The vote comes 89 days after benefits expired late last year. Supporters of the bill said that as of today, 2.24 million Americans have been cut off. Reed has been leading the unemployment effort for months with Heller, who also praised the Senate vote.
“Nevadans are hurting, and I hear every day how desperate so many are for some certainty from Congress on this issue,” Heller said. “Today, the Senate overcame another hurdle and is one step closer to providing unemployed Americans some much-needed relief.”
Nevada and Rhode Island have the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
Portman, who was also a key negotiator and had voted to block earlier efforts to extend the benefits, underscored the program changes in the bill, including a provision he championed that would ensure unemployed workers who go through the state-based skills assessment process are given real-time information about the skills and credentials they need to get back on a career track.
“I’m pleased we’re moving forward on this bipartisan agreement that will allow us to help Americans struggling in this weak economy,” Portman said. “I worked for months with my colleagues to make sure we came up with a proposal that was short-term, paid for, and reforms this broken program.
“The current UI program is failing to connect Americans with jobs, and after this short-term bill is passed, it’s critical that we continue to work on making significant long-term reforms to help get people back on their feet,” Portman continued.
But some Republicans opposed the measure, in part, because they are concerned they will not be allowed to offer amendments.
“There are many good ideas for helping unemployed Americans find a job, and Republican proposals should be debated and deserve a vote,” Sen. Lamar Alexander, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a release. “The Democratic leader has repeatedly cut off amendments and debate on important issues facing our country. We need to offer Americans real solutions to jumpstart our slow economy by liberating the free enterprise system, replacing long-term unemployment insurance with job training and using existing federal education dollars to give low-income families the chance to choose a better school.”
Asked before the vote whether the bill would get more than just the five Republicans needed, Reed said, "I don't know, [but] I hope so." He was right. A handful of Republicans who hadn't signed on to the deal came on board at least to bring it up to the floor.
The Senate will debate the bill after a vote to confirm a judicial nominee — and Democratic leaders are expected to push to clear the measure before next week's end so that the Senate can next consider a Democratic measure that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
The Senate unemployment insurance bill has come under fire from the National Association of State Workforce Agencies for being difficult to implement. Those concerns were cited by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, who subsequently indicated he was unlikely to bring the bill up in the House.
Reed said Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Ways and Means ranking member Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., will encourage House action on the measure.
"It has to get done, I hope they do" take it up, Reed said.
Reed also cited a recent letter from Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez that said any difficulties are surmountable.
"The Labor Secretary has assured everyone we can get it done," Reed said.
Follow our extensive coverage of the unemployment insurance extension proposals: Unemployment Extension Vote Not Worrying House Republicans Boehner Still Cool to Senate Unemployment Extension Bill Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner Doctors Win, Jobless Lose: The GOP Confronts New Perception Problem