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Still Stalling on Unemployment Insurance Extension

It’s Groundhog Day in the Senate.

After voting 85-2 yesterday to proceed to legislation extending unemployment benefits at least 14 weeks nationwide, the Senate remains stalled Tuesday over a second procedural vote required to move to final passage.

Delaying the bill are (1) Republican leaders insisting on consideration of unrelated amendments, and (2) Senate rules requiring two cloture votes to move to final passage of a bill originating in the House when Senate Democrats want to swap it out for a substitute proposal, as was the case here.

So yesterday’s cloture vote was on the Senate substitute bill, with a second needed to move to the (amended) House bill. That’s a long way of saying that the final vote will come Thursday at the earliest, unless party leaders can reach an agreement beforehand.

Neither side, though, appears ready to budge.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters in the Capitol today that GOP leaders are stalling intentionally in order to prevent other Democratic priorities from reaching the floor.

“Even today they’re still stalling before we can pass this bill finally,” Reid said. “Perhaps Senate Republicans don’t think it matters to stall and delay, but it matters to the unemployed worker who so desperately needs this money.”

Democratic leaders first asked Republicans for their consent to pass the bill unanimously on Oct. 8. GOP leaders, however, refused that and subsequent requests, citing first the absence of a cost estimate, then the reluctance of Democrats to consider amendments on ACORN and illegal immigrants, and finally the Democrats’ refusal to vote on three other GOP amendments, including a provision to end the Wall Street bailout and another to fund the unemployment benefit extension with unspent stimulus funds.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters today that if Reid wants to pass the unemployment benefits quickly, he simply needs to agree to votes on those three provisions. Otherwise, McConnell said he has every intention of dragging the process out as long as he can.

“We could have passed this unemployment insurance bill last Thursday,” McConnell said.

I offered a consent agreement which would have given us a handful of amendments upon which we were prepared to take short time agreements, but the majority leader didn’t want to have to vote on more amendments.

So my view is, he doesn’t get to pick our amendments. What we were offering was totally reasonable. And he didn’t want to have — he didn’t want to have the votes.

Technically, the second cloture vote could come as early as 11:40 p.m. tonight, though that vote will likely be pushed to Wednesday morning. Afterward, without an agreement, Democrats would have to wait another 30 hours before staging the final vote, which will likely come Thursday afternoon.

The next stop would be the House, which passed a different unemployment bill in September. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that chamber leaders will take up the Senate bill as soon as it arrives from the upper chamber.

“Why they had to wait a week to get the vote is beyond me,” Hoyer told reporters. “Having said that, we will consider the UI when it comes over.”

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