Senate Passes Unemployment Benefits Extension
Updated 7:26 p.m. | The Senate approved a bipartisan unemployment benefits extension Monday, with six Republicans joining Senate Democrats to clear the measure.
The measure passed 59 to 38 with all Democrats in attendance voting for the bill. The five Republicans who helped negotiate the measure — Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio — joined the Democrats voting in favor of the bill along with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
Three members did not vote — Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Final passage of the five-month extension comes after Senate Democrats and six Republicans overcame the last of three Republican filibuster attempts last week, and as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid teed up the vote with another screed against the billionaire Koch brothers.
Reid on Monday tied his war against the Kochs to the fight to restore emergency unemployment insurance benefits that have been cut off since December.
“Americans need a fair shot at getting back on their feet and finding work, but Koch groups are opposing benefits for the unemployed,” Reid said, teeing off on Charles Koch’s letter to the Wall Street Journal saying that “dignity” was under attack by the government.
“What about the dignity of a single mother from Las Vegas, Christina and her son, and see what dignity there is stuck living in her grandmother’s living room because she and her son were evicted when Christina’s benefits were cut off?” Reid fumed.
“Perhaps Charles and David Koch should spend their night sharing one air mattress like Christina and her son and see what dignity there is in living like that. The Koch brothers want Americans to be dignified as they lose their homes, cars and their security.”
The bill needed only a simply majority to pass, which was all-but-assured given the support of the five Republicans that helped draft the bipartisan compromise along with five Democrats.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., one of four Senate Republicans who supported bringing the bill to the floor only to vote to filibuster it last week, slammed Democrats for blocking alternatives.
“Previously, I voted to allow debate on the unemployment benefits package, but unfortunately there has been no opportunity to consider or vote on alternative proposals to pay for an extension of these benefits while improving the underlying policy to connect job-seekers with available work,” he said, calling the bill “irresponsible.”
House action is uncertain at best. Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has said repeatedly the Senate bill does not meet his test of creating jobs and being fiscally responsible.
A Boehner said that the Speaker was willing to consider the bill so long as it includes provisions to help job creation.
“As the Speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs – but, last week, Senate Democratic Leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all,” said Speaker spokesman Michael Steel. “The American people are still asking, ‘where are the jobs?’ and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses.”
Senate Republicans last week sought to offer a catchall amendment to the bill that they argued would have added job-creation provisions in exchange for expediting work on the bill and passing it last week. But Senate Democrats rejected the offer and instead choosing to vote on final passage Monday evening.
Other Republicans have also argued against extending unemployment benefits, arguing that it encourages unemployment.
But a small group of House Republicans is pushing leaders to bring up an extension. Rep. Peter T. King of New York said last week that he and Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey had sent a letter urging Boehner and his team to move the Senate proposal (HR 3979) or an alternative. If the House doesn’t act this week, the measure will be delayed for another two-week recess.
The Senate bill would pay the unemployed retroactive to December and expire at the end of May.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
Follow our coverage of the unemployment insurance extension proposals: