In the Senate this morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held a test vote which narrowly passed to advance a bill to extend long-term federal unemployment benefits, with Democrats refusing to compromise and pressing for the vote, and Republicans accusing them of playing politics.
The 60-37 vote clears a major hurdle in the Senate to limit debate and advance the bill. 60 votes were needed to push the bill forward.
Fox News reports, “At issue was a complicated system that provides as much as 47 weeks of federally-funded benefits, which begin after state benefits, usually 26 weeks in duration, are exhausted.” The federal unemployment benefits had expired December 28, and will resume assuming the bill is passed and signed by the president.
“Today, I think we have given a bit of hope to millions of Americans, who are struggling in a difficult economy to find jobs, who are struggling to provide sustenance to their families," Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said after the vote.
Six Republicans joined the Democrats in Tuesday’s vote: Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Rob Portman of Ohio — but the majority of Republicans asserted that the Democrats were guilty of political posturing.
“It is transparent that this is a political exercise, not a real effort to try to fix the problem,” declared Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The bill as it currently stands would restore between 14 and 47 weeks of federal unemployment benefits, approximately $256 a week for an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who had been affected by the program’s expiration.
According to Fox News, "Backers of the extension still need to clear several additional votes in the Senate, before the GOP-controlled House can even consider it. House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, voiced hope that the Senate could pressure the House to act on the bill."
In remarks on the Senate floor just before Tuesday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated that a recent wave of positive economic news doesn't "match the darker reality" of the lives of millions. "They sit at the kitchen table, if they're lucky and have a kitchen table to sit [at]. They're juggling bills."
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Photo of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) speaking about the unemployment benefits bill: AP Images