Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
After three failed attempts, the Senate voted 60 to 40 to end a Republican filibuster Tuesday over a bill to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed through the end of November. Roughly 2.5 million Americans have been without benefits since the latest extension expired in June.
The Senate will take a final vote on the bill tomorrow. It will then go to the House for a a vote and on to president's desk for signature.
The months-long impasse was broken by newly minted Democratic Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.), who was sworn in to succeed the late Sen. Robert Byrd minutes before the vote to end debate on the bill. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the only Democrat to oppose it, while Maine's Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, voted with the Democrats.
GOP leaders have succeeded three times in blocking the bill, arguing that it should not be paid for with $33 billion in additional deficit spending, as Democrats plan to do.
"I think you could get 100 votes in the Senate if you could find a way to pay for it," Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) said before the vote. The Republican leadership has called on Democrats to use unspent stimulus funds for any more unemployment extensions, an idea that Democrats have rejected.
With the unemployment rate at 9.5 percent, Democrats have argued for months that benefits should be paid for without going through the arduous task of finding cuts in the federal government to offset the new spending.
"Whether we can pay for the benefits or not is not something (the Senate) could come to an agreement on," Snowe said. "But I don't think we can put that burden on people who are are desperately looking for jobs and need benefits now."
On Monday, President Obama excoriated Republicans for their "misguided" opposition to the measure.
"After years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn't have any problems spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn't offer relief to middle-class Americans," the president said in the Rose Garden.
"These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm."
Nelson, the only Democrat who has consistently bucked his party in opposing deficit spending, said Tuesday that unemployment benefits are crucial. "Not to say that this isn't important. Obviously it's very important," Nelson said. "But if it's that important, it's important enough to be paid for."