Senate Republicans are holding up final passage of a bill to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits after Democrats broke the GOP filibuster on Tuesday.
Republicans have decided they'd like to gobble up the 30 hours of debate allowed after a cloture motion won supermajority support, and have introduced a series of motions, including one to repeal the estate tax and others to offset the cost of the unemployment benefits. A Democratic aide told HuffPost the motions would not delay the final vote, which is expected at 9 p.m. on Wednesday evening.
[UPDATE 2:10 PM: A spokesman for the Senate Republican leader emailed reporters to say the final vote could happen Wednesday afternoon. "Under the rules of the Senate, those [motions] can all get a vote, and we expect those votes to happen shortly after the lunches, meaning final passage of the bill would happen early afternoon," the spokesman wrote. "Rep. Hoyer said yesterday that the House wasn't going to pass the Senate bill until today, which would get it to the President today as well for his signature. So my guess is the President will sign it tonight (all the Dem statements about delay notwithstanding)."]
Extended jobless aid for people out of work for longer than six months lapsed at the end of May as Republicans and conservative Democrats in the Senate, especially Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), blocked the bill over its $33 billion deficit impact. Since the extended benefits lapsed, Labor Department data show that 2.5 million have prematurely stopped receiving checks.
"Republican obstruction has already cost 2.5 million Americans essential aid they need to pay their rent, put food on the table, and take care of their kids," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in a statement. "By the end of this week, roughly 350,000 more Americans could be added to that number. The livelihoods of nearly 3 million Americans shouldn't hinge on partisan game playing in Washington. This latest move gives the partisan minority thirty more hours to stall in the Senate, but that means thirty more hours of suffering for these hardworking families trying to get by."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained on Tuesday that President Obama had unnecessarily criticized Republicans for obstructing the legislation when it was already clear Senate Democrats would be able to end the debate. "He knew that today's vote to extend these benefits had already been scheduled days before he told the nation in two nationally broadcasts that Republicans were holding it up," McConnell said. "He also knew it would pass. But he intentionally implied otherwise, leaving the public without all the facts."
On Wednesday, the fact is that Republicans are holding it up. It's uncertain if the holdup will prevent the unemployed who were affected by the lapse from receiving their retroactive payments any more quickly than they otherwise would have; the bill still needs House approval and the president's signature.
"The fight is over, passage of the UI extension is inevitable, and the 2.5 million workers who have lost benefits in this stalemate can't afford to wait another day to get their benefits reinstated," said Judy Conti, a lobbyist with the National Employment Law Project. "There is no reason to wait another 30 hours before a final vote, unless there are those who are simply interested in burning as much floor time as possible, so that the Senate has even less time remaining this year to try to enact policies that will return people to work. It's a shame and the unemployed and all those who are suffering in this recession deserve better than partisan spite."
This whole fight will probably happen again in November, when the reauthorization approved this week is set to expire.
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