The Senate approved a bill Monday evening to restore expired long-term unemployment benefits for five months, sending the bill to an uncertain future in the House.
The final vote was 59-38, with several Republicans voting to support the measure, Politico reported. Democrats needed to muster just a bare majority to pass the bill, having narrowly cleared a series of 60-vote threshold procedural hurdles last week with the support of a few Republicans.
The bill languished for nearly four months in the Senate as Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to allow votes on GOP amendments.
The fight is only beginning in the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said the legislation has “serious problems” and is “unworkable.” What’s more, the House will soon go into recess until the end of April.
Shortly after passage, President Barack Obama praised the Senate and prodded the House GOP. “Washington needs to put politics aside and help these hard-working, responsible Americans make ends meet,” he said in a statement. “I urge House Republicans to stop blocking a bipartisan compromise that would stem this tide, take up the bill without delay, and send it to my desk.”
Senate Republicans who backed the legislation will push Boehner to follow their course. “We’re going to continue working,” said Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, the chief GOP sponsor of the bill. “I told my staff: Get me a meeting with Speaker Boehner. And let’s see if we can figure out what would motivate them to move this piece of legislation forward.”
An aide to Boehner said the speaker had no meeting scheduled with Heller as of Monday.
Shortly after the Senate vote, seven House Republicans -- many from high-unemployment regions or politically competitive districts -- wrote their leadership, asking that a House vote be held on the bill or on a similar measure, Reuters reported. They were Mike Grimm, Chris Gibson and Peter King of New York; Jon Runyan, Chris Smith and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey, and Joe Heck of Nevada.
Boehner's press secretary, Michael Steel, said: "The speaker has said since before Christmas that we are open to looking at extending emergency UI (unemployment insurance) -- as long as it is paid for, and does something to create more private-sector jobs."
Supporters earlier resolved the demand that it be paid for by offsetting the $10 billion cost of an extension with savings elsewhere.
The bill would restore jobless benefits for five months, retroactive to last December, when they began to expire for those who have been out of work for at least six months.
More Senate Republicans had initially agreed to consider the bill, but they dropped their support in the final vote when no agreement could be reached between party leaders to allow amendments to the deal, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“We're simply saying give us a chance to make our case,” said Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, where the jobless rate is 6.1 percent. Coats’ support last week for the bill helped it advance, but he voted against it Monday, complaining that the Senate was dysfunctional because Democrats would not let him offer an amendment that would have imposed certain work requirements.
There is talk of amending the bill and sending it back to the Senate with provisions favored by Republicans — but even that seems to be on the back burner, Politico reported.
That leaves the package in limbo, even as Democrats threaten to make it an election year issue — a threat doing little to spur House Republicans to action.
“I don’t think there is a great sense of pressure on our members,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a House deputy whip. “The prevailing view in our conference is that there aren’t adequate pay-fors and it’s time for this program to come to an end.”