The passing of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) leaves Senate Democrats one vote short of the 60 needed to break a Republican filibuster of a bill reauthorizing extended unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said on Wednesday.
"We definitely would [have 60 votes] if Senator Byrd were here or his replacement were here," Reid said. "We're going to wait and see what other Republicans will do. We are confident -- we're hopeful and somewhat confident that it will pass."
Extended unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless lapsed at the beginning of June after Congress failed to reauthorize the benefits as part of a broader domestic aid package, which passed the House with some difficulty before stalling in the Senate. Since the lapse, more than 1.2 million people have missed checks.
Over the past few weeks, in an effort to appease deficit hawks, Reid and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) reduced the bill's 10-year deficit impact from $134 billion to just $33 billion by trimming aid to the poor, old and jobless. But Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson has joined the entire Republican party in demanding that the measure not add to the deficit at all, finally prompting Reid and Baucus to bring up a new bill that contains just unemployment benefits and an extension of the home-buyer tax credit.
For this bill, Reid said he has "yes" commitments from two Republicans, presumably Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. With two Republicans and no Nelson and no Byrd, Reid has 59 supporters and needs one more. Moderate Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, recently a target of much lobbying by Reid, on Wednesday unveiled his own version of the bill, which Democratic aides see as cover for a no vote.
There's not much time for bargaining -- the last chance for a vote before the July 4 recess will be Thursday evening, after Byrd lies in state in the Senate chamber for most of the day and before Byrd's funeral on Friday. (The House will be voting Wednesday on its own version of a standalone jobless aid bill.)
If Congress doesn't act before the looming recess, more than 2 million people will have missed checks by the time lawmakers get back to Washington. If Congress doesn't act at all, it will be the first time federally-funded unemployment benefits have been dropped with a national unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.
If the bill doesn't pass this week, Reid said, "We're not moving away from this issue. We'll be back to haunt these people for what they're doing to people who are in such desperate shape."