Divided Senate To Vote On Extending Unemployment Benefits

The Senate is poised to take a key procedural vote on whether to move forward with an extension of federal unemployment benefits for 1.3 million jobless Americans, with Democrats hoping to overcome a strong partisan divide on the issue.

Although Tuesday’s vote is procedural, it will indicate whether there’s enough Republican support to move the Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which expired on Dec. 28, forward to a full vote. As The Associated Press writes, the measure “is the leading edge of a Democratic program that also includes raising the minimum wage and closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and corporations.”

As NPR’s Craig Windham reports, “GOP lawmakers say they oppose the bill because it does not include offsets-spending cuts to pay the cost” of the extension.

However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), says the extensions have been considered emergency measures in the past and have always passed without offsets.

The vote was originally scheduled for Monday evening, but it was abruptly delayed because, as Politico reports, supporters did not have the votes they needed.

On Monday, Politico wrote:

“Democrats need five Republicans to join them to advance the legislation … So far, there are just two Republicans publicly committed to supporting the legislation as written: [Maine Sen. Susan] Collins and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who co-sponsored the measure with [Rhode Island Democrat] Sen. Jack Reed.”

Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee is among those who has vowed to vote against the extension, saying the bill “is being jammed through.”

“Spending $6.5 billion in three months without trying to find ways to pay for it or improve the underlying policy is irresponsible and takes us in the wrong direction,” he said, according to the AP.

Federal unemployment benefits were signed into law in 2008 by President George W. Bush to provide an average of $300 a week to jobless Americans for an additional 28 weeks after state their benefits expired. It was meant as a stop-gap measure during recession, which saw the worst unemployment in decades. As the length and depth of the recession dragged on, the measure was extended more than ten times.

Reuters says:

“The Democrat-led Senate plans to escalate the fight in coming weeks by bringing up for a vote a bill to increase the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 an hour since July 2009. Democrats want the minimum wage to rise over three years to $10.10 and then be indexed to inflation in the future.”

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