Senate Majority Leader Reid said today he will seek consent from Republicans early next week to take up recently approved House legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. Speaking at a news conference, Reid said he would not file cloture to take up the bill and would look to the Iraq and Afghanastan war supplemental spending package as a legislative vehicle for the extension if Republicans block consideration of the House measure as expected. "We are going to try to move to that, [and] if the Republicans won't cooperate with that, then we will just stick it in the supplemental," Reid said. The legislation would provide 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to workers who exhaust the 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits; in states with higher levels of unemployment, an additional 13 weeks would be available for a total of 26 weeks of extended benefits. President Bush has threatened to veto the measure. The House approved the bill Thursday, 274-137. Supporters of extending the benefits were pleased by the House vote and the determination of House and Senate Democratic leaders to get the bill to Bush. "I think the House and Senate leadership are determined to send this to the president one way or another," said AFL-CIO legislative director Bill Samuel.
The House measure is similar to a provision included in the Iraq war supplemental spending package approved by the Senate last month. But House Democratic leaders have sought to pass unemployment insurance extension as a stand-alone bill, which would help reduce the package's cost and possibly avoid a veto of the supplemental. Bush has threatened to veto the Senate package over its domestic spending. House Democratic leaders, who have been negotiating with the White House, hope to take up the supplemental as soon as Wednesday. If the package the House approves is different from the Senate-passed measure, it would go back to the Senate for approval. Republicans charge that the so-called ping-pong handling of the supplemental between the House and Senate threatens to delay troop funding. The Senate package includes $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of FY08 and part of FY09. House and Senate Democratic leaders have said that they hope to have the supplemental to Bush by Fourth of July recess.
Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee and Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittees will mark up their respective FY09 spending bills Wednesday and have a full committee markup Thursday, the full committee announced today. The House Appropriations Committee began work on its bill this week. At the Thursday meeting, the Senate panel will also approve the 302(b) spending limits for all 12 bills. The week of June 23, the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee and the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee are tentatively scheduled to mark up those bills with full committee action expected shortly thereafter.
This article appears in the June 14, 2008 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.