GOP Folds On Unemployment Benefits Fight: 14-Week Extension Passes
The GOP called for the check Wednesday night, having had enough of the fight over an extension of unemployment benefits that the party had held up for several weeks.
While the Senate was stuck in parliamentary limbo, some 200,000 people actively looking for work lost their unemployment benefits. The bill extends unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks across the country, and in some states with the highest unemployment the extension goes to 20 weeks. More on the bill here.
The extension itself was not controversial and passed 98-0. Getting there, however, was a Herculean parliamentary task that provides insight into just how hard it is to pass even popular legislation in the Senate with a minority party intent on opposing the majority's agenda step by laborious step.
Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called for the third cloture vote on the bill to break a GOP filibuster. It passed 97-1. (That would be one Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) as the lone Republican to object in public on this round.)
At that point, the GOP could have elected to require 30 hours of debate, plus an intervening day, before moving to final passage -- as they had insisted several times before, even after the pot had been sweetened for them. But later in the evening, they called it quits and agreed to move to a final vote.
Democrats charge that Republicans are chewing up the clock to oppose their overall agenda. But the Republicans say they weren't opposing unemployment or any other Democratic priority, but were rather standing up for their rights as senators in the minority.
"What the Republican leader was objecting to was the Democratic leader picking our amendments. That's what he insisted on doing and that's why there was a hold up," Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told HuffPost.
"We believe that the essence of the Senate is the right to offer amendments. We understand about limiting amendments, making them relevant and agreeing to a time agreement so we can get our business done," said Alexander, a member of GOP leadership.
Reid did, in fact, object to several GOP amendments aimed at ACORN and the financial industry bailout, arguing that the ACORN issue has been litigated to death and that the bailout amendment was an attempted distraction.
On Wednesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she simply couldn't understand what constituency Republicans thought they were benefiting by holding up unemployment benefits.
"Who are they representing?" she wondered.
UPDATE: The House passed the extension Thursday afternoon by a 403-12 vote and it now heads to the president's desk for his signature. The no votes can be found here. Most of those nays participated in Thursday's Tea Party protest.