It has been four up and four down in the Senate for bill H.R.4213, the American Jobs and Closing Loopholes Act of 2010. According to OpenCongress.org, the bill failed cloture (suspension of debate) Thursday, voted down 58-38 (with three abstentions and a missing vote from Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died Monday).
The “Tax and Benefits Bill” has been pared down and whittled away at, to the point that it is a vestige of the original bill, all in an attempt by Democrats to entice enough Republicans to vote to pass legislation that will get funds to states to bail out hard hit Medicaid and unemployment benefits programs.
But, after all the paring and whittling, down-sizing, revamping and rewriting of the bill, it still has yet to receive enough Republican votes — in four cloture votes — to pass. And, while all the senators continue to say they understand that an unemployment benefits extension is needed and continue to blame members of the opposing party for the stalemate, the number of unemployed (1.2 million by the first week of July) not receiving benefits grows.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) positioned the “Tax and Benefits Bill” for its fourth cloture vote on Tuesday evening, scheduling the measure for a Thursday Senate vote to get it out of debate and onto the Senate floor for a final passage vote. The decision was made to conduct the cloture vote on Wednesday evening, because Thursday morning was to be set aside for honoring the late Senator Byrd.
In a break with what seemed to have become an endless looping routine, two Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, crossed the aisle to vote for cloture. Ben Nelson of Nebraska remained the only Democratic senator to vote with Republicans to maintain the filibuster that has been in place since H.R.4213 was introduced.
Afterward, Reid commented: “It is beyond disappointing that Republicans continue to stand almost lockstep against assistance for out-of-work Americans – especially since many of these same Republicans spent months protecting Wall Street and preserving tax cuts for CEOs who ship American jobs overseas.”
With a deadlocked vote, the Senate officially recessed early for the July 4 holiday weekend, Senator Reid stating that the Senate would not vote on the bill again until Senator Byrd’s replacement was named (West Virginia governor Joe Manchin is slated to appoint an interim senator over the break). Bad enough that the unemployed that lost their benefits, those receiving regular unemployment benefits and those in the emergency extension tiers in the month of June, lose out on another week of benefits that would help them pay mortgages/rent and bills, but the holiday recess lasts until July 14.
The Department of Labor estimates that over 2 million of the nation’s unemployed will have had their unemployment benefits discontinued by the time Congress reconvenes from recess. It will take at least another few days to push legislation through, including anything including an unemployment benefits extension. Congress has already set an unenviable record by not extending unemployment benefits in a time of high (record-setting) unemployment.
The House of Representatives was in session on Thursday, July 1. There remains the hope of passing a standalone unemployment benefits extension bill (H.R.5618) before the House recesses for the holiday. However, a House passage is only one-third of the process. The Senate would still have to pass the measure as well. Then, the bill would need President Obama’s signature.
Senator Charles Grassley (R-IO) also made a comment to an Iowa newspaper that he had “hope” that the Senate might reconvene for another vote Thursday night because he believed the one vote needed could be attained. OpenCongress.org reported that President Obama also had called for a special meeting with Senator Harry Reid at 3 p.m. Thursday, but it was unclear what would be discussed.
Interestingly, Senator Reid voted “no” on the cloture motion, which would have given the “yea” vote a total of 59, one short of the required 60. Although it seems strange that he would back out on a bill he has so vehemently lobbied for, it was a point of procedure and was necessary for Reid to do so (he already knew the cloture vote would fail) in order to resubmit the bill in the future. With Grassley’s comment, proponents of the unemployment benefits extension are hopeful that the Republican senator, who voted against cloture Wednesday evening, would cast the deciding vote.
Still the unemployed wait.