It has come down to this one question: Will Congress pass legislation that will grant extension to the discontinued unemployment benefits of hundreds of thousands before or after the July 4 Congressional recess? The Senate has already officially recessed for the break, after failing to pass a cloture motion for the fourth time Thursday evening on bill H.R.4213, which includes a provision for unemployment benefits extension (until November 2010).
Although the House of Representatives is in session, it is unclear whether or not a standalone unemployment benefits extension bill, H.R.5618, will be voted on and, if it is and the bill passes, whether or not it sees a Senate vote before the break. But, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IO) told the Iowa Independent that he has hope that the Senate will reconvene for a special session just to vote on H.R.4213 Thursday evening. Harkin believes another try will get the legislation passed. What does Harkin know that no one else knows?
Senator Tom Harkin told reporters during a conference call Thursday, “I hope that we can get this done – we only missed it by one vote yesterday – I hope we can pass it tonight before we go home for the 4th of July.”
Although Senator Harkin remains hopeful, there has been little to indicate that there will be any change in the Republican position of stonewalling the measure and keeping it in filibuster. Thursday night’s cloture vote saw two Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voting outside the Republican bloc for the first time in a month. The two Maine senators, who are considered moderate Republicans, have often been the target of Democrats looking for allies from the opposing aisle.
Still, there were three abstentions in the voting, all Republican. Perhaps Senator Harkin knows something — a whispered promise, a veiled hint, a behind-the-scenes communique from a Republican senator (or even Ben Nelson, the sole Democrat to vote against cloture) — that has indicated to him that another vote would see the passage of H.R.4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010.
H.R.4213 failed to reach cloture for the fourth time Thursday by a 58-38 vote. Besides the Republican abstentions, a fourth vote was missing due to the passing of Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia. His replacement is expected to be named by West Virginia governor Joe Manchin over the July 4 recess. Although the vote read that two votes were needed, only one actually would have been necessary, because Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) cast a “no” vote in order to be able to resubmit the bill at a later date. His “no” would have been a “yea” otherwise.
“Quite frankly,” Senator Harkin was reported by the Independent as saying, “The worst thing I think we can do in the recession that we are in right now is to not extend unemployment insurance benefits. That will drag the economy down every further.”
Harkin bases his economic views on a report by Moody’s Economy.com and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which estimates that, for every dollar spent via unemployment benefits and the extension programs, there is $1.63-worth of economic activity generated.
Senator Harkin’s estimation is in league with many others. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman noted that the Republican stance against passage due to future national debt is anathema to economic recovery.
“Penny-pinching,” he wrote in the June 20 New York Times, “At a time like this isn’t just cruel; it endangers the nation’s future.”
A report issued by the National Employment Law Program and the Center for American Progress also noted unemployment benefits and the benefits extension programs are, at present, one of the few positive factors in a sluggish economy where jobs are scarce and businesses are tightening their budgets. The report suggested that, in such a sluggish economy, it becomes imperative for the government to provide a means for individuals to pay for goods and services that keep the economy moving forward, even if only marginally so.
But, does this mean that another effort to pass the bill Thursday evening will work? Senator Tom Harkin’s hopes aside, the Democratic-sponsored legislation would still need another vote from the Republican side of the aisle, or Ben Nelson of Nebraska to return to voting with his Democratic colleagues.
And, then, there is the technicality of the Senate already officially being in recess, having voted for recess after Thursday night’s failed cloture vote. But, President Obama, according to OpenCongress.org, has called for a special meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for Thursday afternoon. Although it is unknown what the details of the meeting concern, there is speculation that the unemployment benefits extension situation will be discussed.