The Senate voted Tuesday to invoke cloture on legislation extended unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed. Six Republicans joined Democrats to clear the key procedural hurdle by a vote of 60-37. The vote allows the Senate to pass the final legislation with a simple majority. It isn’t clear whether the House will consider the extension, but the political pressure is likely to increase.
Indiana GOP Sen. Dan Coats provided the crucial 60th vote to block a Republican filibuster on the extension. Five other Republicans, Sens. Dean Heller (NV), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH) and Susan Collins (ME) also supported the Democrat cloture vote. The measure will likely receive a final vote later this week.
The extension of the unemployment benefits, which provided up to 99 weeks of assistance to the unemployed, expired at the end of 2013. Democrats have seized on the issue as a part of their broader rhetoric on income inequality. The larger problem, of course, is that almost two years of unemployment assistance is even necessary. It’s a reflection of how weak the economic recovery has been.
The extension faces strong opposition in the GOP-controlled House. Republicans want the cost of the extension offset by other cuts in the budget. The Senate measure extends benefits for three months at a cost of just over $6 billion. With discretionary spending pegged at just over $1 trillion this year, there are likely savings within the budget to cover the costs of extended unemployment benefits.
President Obama is scheduled to address the issue on Tuesday afternoon.