Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is telling reporters today that he has won the votes of two Republicans for his extension of federal unemployment insurance benefits. He says he is one vote away from having 60 senators to vote for cloture on the bill, which would then move forward to a final vote.
Without one more swing GOP vote– or the vote of recalcitrant Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska– Senate Democrats might have to wait to pass the bill until after the July 4 recess, when the late Sen. Robert Byrd’s replacement takes his seat. More than 300,000 unemployed Americans would lose extended benefits in the meantime, adding to the current 1.2 million on the rolls.
There are currently 58 members of Congress who caucus with the Democrats. Nelson though has voiced strong opposition to Reid’s bill. “If we had Senator Byrd’s replacement we would have 60,” Reid told The Hill. “We have to wait and see what a couple of Republicans do.”
The two Republicans are most likely Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, both of whom have signaled they would be willing to vote for a standalone benefits extension measure.
A Senate Democratic aide says gaining the 60th vote with both Collins and Snowe likely on board is proving extremely difficult — because Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has indicated he will not vote for the proposal. This morning, he released a deficit-neutral version of the unemployment extension bill, paying for the benefits by taking money from the stimulus.
The cloture vote will likely happen tomorrow. Reid told The Hill the homebuyer tax credit portion of the bill might pass under unanimous consent today.