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Senate Hopes to Pass Short-Term Unemployment Extension Thursday

By the slimmest of margins, the Senate last night approved a measure waiving the pay-go rules for legislation extending the filling deadline for unemployment benefits (not to be confused with the creation of Tier V) until June. Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) was the only Republican to vote in favor of the motion, which passed 60 to 40.

The procedural move sets the stage for full passage of the bill, which also extends COBRA health subsidies for unemployed workers and delays a scheduled pay cut for doctors treating Medicare patients.

A $9.2 billion proposal passed by the House last month would have extended the programs through May 5 — a proposal that Senate Democrats had tried to pass several weeks back. But Republican opposition — combined with Congress’ two-week spring break — delayed the vote long enough that Democratic leaders tweaked the proposal so that (1) the benefits are retroactive to April 5, when the original benefits expired, and (2) the extensions run an additional month (at twice the cost). Party leaders are hoping the wider window will allow them the time to pass an even longer-term extension of all these programs — something that will see them through November’s midterm elections.

Democrats are trying now to get an agreement from Republican leaders to pass the $18 billion bill today. Otherwise, they’ll have to slog through a series of cloture votes that could push the process into next week.

After the Senate passes the bill (whenever that is), it will return to the House, where leaders are expected to approve it quickly before sending it on to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

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