Senate Ends Weeks of Wrangling on Jobless Benefits With Passage

Posted July 21, 2010 at 6:06pm

The Senate passed a temporary extension of unemployment benefits Wednesday night, crossing one item off the to-do list as Members make their final legislative push before the August recess.

The final vote of 59-39 came after weeks of partisan wrangling over the $34 billion measure, which would provide financial compensation to Americans who have been out of work for six months or more. Republicans routinely charged that the measure should be offset, while Democrats maintained it was emergency spending.

While Senate Democrats reiterated a sense of urgency in passing the measure, the House must also pass the bill before it can go to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped the House would act Wednesday night, but Members are not expected to vote on the measure until Thursday. Obama could sign the bill later the same day.

Reid accused Republicans on Wednesday of delaying action by using up all 30 hours of debate time allowed under the rules following the procedural vote Tuesday. “The minority — which, it is worth repeating, has already lost the debate and the vote on this issue — has decided to squeeze out every last second of that time until they have no more tools at their disposal,” Reid said.

House Republicans tried to turn the tables by contending that a Democratic fundraiser slated for Wednesday evening had led to House leaders’ decision to not take up the measure Wednesday night.

Democrats fought back hard. “Are you serious?” asked Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “All of a sudden Republicans are concerned about the plight of the unemployed? Give me a break.”

A Democratic leadership aide fiercely disputed the idea that fundraisers had anything to do with the scheduling decision and said House rules and procedures would have prevented the bill from being considered until after midnight. “There is no conflict,” the aide said.

A temporary expansion of unemployment benefits ran out June 4, and Democrats have struggled in the weeks since to strike a deal that could win enough votes in the Senate.

They were helped Tuesday when Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.) was sworn in as the temporary replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D), giving Democrats the final vote they needed to reach the 60-vote threshold to break a GOP filibuster.

Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine joined Democrats both in the procedural vote Tuesday and in passage Wednesday, while Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined the remaining Republicans in voting “no” on Tuesday and Wednesday. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and David Vitter (R-La.) did not vote Wednesday.

The measure would extend benefits through the end of November, making it likely that both chambers will take up another extension after the midterm elections.

Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.