The Senate on Wednesday easily cleared the last procedural barrier standing in the way of passing legislation to extend unemployment insurance benefits as long as 20 weeks nationwide.
The count was 97 to one, with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) the only lawmaker to oppose the measure.
The lopsided vote clears the way for final passage of the bill, which, without the consent of Republicans, could take place Thursday morning, at the earliest. There are murmurs on Capitol Hill, however, that an agreement on final passage might happen today.
The bill extends unemployment benefits by at least 14 weeks in all states, with an addition six weeks provided in the 27 states where unemployment rates have topped 8.5 percent. The benefits would not be retroactive, meaning that those whose benefits expired (or will expire) before the president signs the bill won’t be eligible for back-pay to fill the gap.
The bill has been held up for nearly a month as party leaders battled over a series of controversial amendments that Republican leaders insisted get votes, including a provision rebuking ACORN and another to end the Wall Street bailout. In the end, Democratic leaders refused those demands, settling instead on just two add-ons: a tax credit for homebuyers and tax relief for businesses, large and small.
The House passed a similar, though less generous, benefits extension in September. House leaders have said they’ll take up the Senate bill as soon as it’s sent over from the upper chamber.
The question now is whether Republican leaders will agree to final passage before the 30-hour post-cloture debate clock expires, or if they’ll drag this thing into Thursday. Under an earlier agreement, that 30-hour clock began ticking just before midnight last night.
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