WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to advance a bill restoring unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed.
With both Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and six Republicans on board, the bill to extend the benefits for an additional three months overcame a potential filibuster Tuesday morning on a 60-37 vote, setting up further debate on the measure and giving lawmakers more time to try reaching a deal for final passage.
But even if the Senate were to pass the bill, it’s likely dead in the GOP-controlled House, where leadership has said it would consider extending the benefits only if there’s a way to pay for them. The Senate bill would cost $6.5 billion, without cutting funding elsewhere, which could seriously impede Republican support going forward.
Democrats have looked to pressure Republicans to bring up a renewal of the program. Even as the Senate was voting, Rep. Rick Nolan put out a statement calling on House Speaker John Boehner to bring the bill to the floor, should the Senate pass it.
About 8,500 Minnesotans lost their unemployment benefits when the program ended on Dec. 28.
Whether a deal is reached or not, the unemployment fight is shaping up to be just the first skirmish in a larger fight over economic policies to help the poor, unemployed and middle class. Democrats are likely to keep pressing for a new unemployment insurance package and will eventually call for a minimum wage increase, something Republicans have opposed.
Some Republicans, meanwhile, have begun crafting their own plans to help the poor. The Washington Post has a story on that strategy today, highlighting early efforts from conservatives like Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Rep. Paul Ryan, some of whom could begin rolling out their plans as early as this week.
The Post likens the renewed focus on the poor to a quest undertaken by former Rep. Jack Kemp in the 1990s. Former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber, who founded a think tank with Kemp, told the paper the plight of the poor is the right thing for Republicans to focus on given how it’s fallen off the radar in recent years.
“On the outside, conservatives are talking about it more,” he said in the story. “But it’s nothing like it was with Kemp. The reality is things have withered since Jack got out of politics, and Republicans need to re-engage. If this debate forces them to do that, it’s a good thing.”
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry