WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate voted 60-34 to proceed with a bill to extend unemployment benefits for one month to jobless Americans after letting them expire earlier this month as they went into spring recess.
More than 200,000 Americans stopped receiving unemployment benefits on April 5 because of the Senate’s failure to pass the extension. The failure was pegged as the fault of one lawmaker, Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who blocked the passage before Congress left for a two-break by voting against an emergency unanimous-consent agreement. Coburn said the government needed to find money in the budget to pay for the $9 billion extension, which would keep benefits flowing until at least May 5. It would also temporarily extend other federal programs, including COBRA benefits, Medicare and national flood insurance.
Of the nearly 15 million Americans currently unemployed, more than 11 million are collecting unemployment benefits.
Four Republicans voted along with 56 Democrats to proceed with the measure Monday, reaching the 60-vote threshold. Republicans Scott Brown of Massachusetts, George Voinovich of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Susan Collins of Maine voted with majority Democrats. Zero Democrats voted against the motion, and six Senators are still out on recess.
The procedural vote, on measure is H.R.4851 of the Continuing Extension Act, was the first order of business as the Senate settled back into work Monday.
After the voting, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he had been in discussions with Sen. Coburn and said, “I see a path to finishing.”
According to Reid, instead of running the entire time period under the 30-hour rule, the opposition agreed to yield the remaining time as of 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, when the motion to proceed will be finalized with a simple majority vote and the bill will go before the Senate for a final vote. The bill will likely be up for a final vote on Thursday or Friday this week.
“We’re looking forward to tomorrow afternoon,” Reid said.
During voting, Coburn walked out on the floor and asked a Senate employee how her break was, then interrupted with a loud ‘No’ when his name was called.
Before the vote, which occurred at 5:30 ET, Sen. Coburn said on the Senate floor that it was “inappropriate” for Congress to go into recess without the bill being passed. He said that he was not against helping Americans in need.
“The question is, where do we get the money?” Coburn said. Coburn suggested taking it from the defense department, which has “at least $50 billion worth of waste,” Coburn said.
“It will be a matter of where the money will come from,” Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona said on the floor. “This is not without cost.”
In another floor speech Monday, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said the blame for not passing the “common sense” bill “falls solely at the feet of the Congress because we couldn’t get it together through our parliamentary rules.”
“We’ll get it done,” Nelson said. “We’ll use the better part of this week going through this parliamentary folderal, and we’ll get it extended.”
“For many Americans, these benefits are the only thing keeping food on the table,” Nelson said. The House already passed the bill on March 17. In March, the nationwide unemployment rate held steady at 9.7 percent, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report.
In the next few weeks, the Senate will take up discussions on financial regulatory reform and immigration.