A Democratic senator said Tuesday that the congressional standoff over renewing extended unemployment benefits could last several weeks in a repeat of a summer debacle that interrupted benefits for 2.5 million people.
Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) said on a conference call with reporters that he hoped the Senate would approve a year-long reauthorization by "unanimous consent" on Tuesday afternoon. "I hope that our Republican friends won't object to this request and we can get this passed today," he said. "We'll see what happens. I'm just very happy that at least we have a vote today to move it forward."
It only takes one senator to block a unanimous consent request. HuffPost asked Casey what Democrats would do after unanimous consent is denied.
"Well, we'll have to think of another way to get it done. Not just this week and this month, but if it takes longer than that we'll have to stay at it," he said. "You know how long it took us [over the summer] to get unemployment insurance as part of a bigger bill on tax extenders. We had vote after vote on that, they blocked and blocked and blocked. We pulled it out, had a separate vote, they blocked and blocked."
Casey added: "We're used to having a series of votes on this before we get it done."
For nearly two months this summer, Senate Democrats struggled to get 60 votes to break a filibuster by Republicans and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson in order to reauthorize the benefits for just five months. With the newly-seated Republican Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) replacing appointed Democrat Roland Burris, and moderate Republicans signaling they oppose renewing jobless aid for a full year without "paying for it" by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget, Democrats will have an even more difficult time reauthorizing the aid before Christmas.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on Sunday that unemployment benefits may be included in a package that also reauthorizes soon-to-expire tax cuts for the rich. Democrats will work on their strategy during a long caucus lunch on Tuesday.
The Labor Department estimates that two million people will be dropped from federal extended benefits programs by December if those programs, which provide up to 73 weeks of benefits beyond 26 weeks of state aid, are not reauthorized.