In an apparent rebuke of their leadership and a relative surprise to many in the Capitol, a handful of Senate Republicans voted with Democrats to advance a bill restoring lapsed unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people.
The three-month proposal, championed by Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada, does not include offsets to pay for continuing the program. Congress has granted extensions of the program previously without offsets. Democrats overcame a Republican effort to block consideration of the bill 60-37.
Even if it gets out of the Senate, House Republican leadership aides have said that their bosses will not bring a bill to the floor unless it is fully paid for. The administration has estimated that if Congress does not reinstate unemployment insurance this year, an additional 3.6 million Americans could lose benefits by the end of 2014. That same report concluded that eliminating the benefits could cost the American economy 200,000 jobs over the same time period, as federal payments to unemployed workers tend to be spent immediately, creating both demand in the market and an economic multiplier effect.
Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sought a vote on an amendment that would pay for the benefits by delaying the health care law's individual mandate by one year.
Senate Democrats held a press call advocating for swift passage of the stopgap welfare measure Sunday, and planned another news conference after Tuesday's vote. There's no sign that they'll stop talking about this issue, or the minimum wage, in the run-up to November's midterm elections.
In an interview with CQ Roll Call last week, Reed said he hadn't given much thought to whether Democratic leaders should have made their push for unemployment insurance sooner and that in "20/20 hindsight, maybe we should have done more." But he remains committed to the policy and politics behind the issue, and told CQ Roll Call then that he was hopeful that Republicans, over time, might change their minds, even as the Senate faces a tight schedule in the days ahead, with potential omnibus and farm bill conference votes.
“I’m going to work as hard as I can to get it done. The reality is this is a problem that affects the nation, in Republican and Democratic states. ... [It] affects a broad number of people and I think my colleagues, when they think about the consequences to their constituents and the fact that this is good for the economy, will realize that," Reed said then.