Six Republicans Help Advance Unemployment Benefits in Senate

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Updated at 10:25, 11:11, 111:20 am and 1:45 pm EST

Five votes.

That’s what the Democrats in the Senate said they needed from Republicans this morning for a delayed vote on the extension of unemployment benefits for more than 1 million of the long-term unemployed Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this morning they wouldn’t get it.

They got it, plus one.

The motion to advance the measure, which required 60 votes, passed by 60-37.

Republicans Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dan Coats of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted with the Democrats to advance the bill to debate and a final vote.

“We can’t get the Republicans to join us,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, had lamented before the vote,  imploring at least a few Republicans to support the bill. “I am troubled that most of Senator Heller’s Republican colleagues… callously turn their backs…. I am just sad. I hope we can get them to move over and help these people.”

“There are lots of people who are in desperate shape,” Reid said of the unemployment benefit lapse. “It’s not good for the country.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said more Republicans could support the unemployment benefits “if we could find a way to extend them without actually adding to the national debt.”

Collins said her colleagues would continue seeking a way to pay for the legislation, which is unlikely to clear the House in its current form.

“I understand how important unemployment insurance is to those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are searching for work but are unable to find it,” Collins said in a statement issued after the vote. “Today’s vote to proceed provides us time to debate the bill and to find the funds that could pay for the extension of benefits.”

The frigid weather that prevented one quarter of the Senate from showing up at last night’s vote to confirm Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chairman prompted a delay in the unemployment vote — at the request of Republicans who want to block it.

Even with passage in the Senate, however, prospects remain dim in the House, where Republican leaders oppose the extension.

Democrats are making the case that this is a matter of shoring up an economic recovery that’s been a struggle since 2008. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio likened it to Henry Ford’s commitment to pay his workers $5 a day because he knew it would be good for the economy — his own workers would be able to buy his Model Ts. Brown said so on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today, where he said all he needed was five added Republicans voting for the benefits.

After the surprise Senate vote, President Barack Obama held a pre-planned event at the White House to make the case for the extension of the benefits and keep pressure on Senate and House alike.

“You know, a few weeks ago, I said that 2014 could be a breakthrough year for America,” Obama said. “Think about it. Five years ago this month, our economy was shedding 800,000 jobs, just in one month. But as Americans buckled down and worked hard and sacrificed, we began to come back.”

The president said: “The economy is growing, and we’ve got to do more to make sure that all Americans share that growth. We’ve got to help our businesses create more jobs. We’ve got to make sure that all Americans share in that growth. We’ve got to help our businesses create more jobs. We’ve got to make sure those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families rebuild a little security.”

“In other words, we’ve got to make sure that this recovery leaves nobody behind. And we’ve got a lot of work to do on that front.”

He said: “For the Americans… who were laid off in the recession, through no fault of their own, unemployment insurance has been a vital economic lifeline. For a lot of people, it’s the only source of income they’ve got to support their families while they look for a new job. These aren’t folks who are just sitting back, waiting for things to happen. They’re out there actively looking for work. They desperately want work.”

The president quoted one of the women who joined him at the White House appearance today as saying: “I challenge any lawmaker to live without an income.”

 

 

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