Senate Democratic leaders will try to pass legislation that would extend unemployment insurance benefits after the House acts on the measure today, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer of New York said. But if Democrats cannot get the 60 votes needed to overcome an expected Republican filibuster, Schumer said Democratic leaders would consider including it in an Iraq war supplemental spending package, despite the threat of a White House veto announced today. "We are hopeful we can get the 60 votes on the [unemployment insurance extension] the way the House sends it to us," Schumer said. "But if we can't, it is something we don't want to drop. We think it is very important to get done. How to do that? We will have to put our heads together with the House." The House is expected to approve the unemployment bill later today. 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, up to 13 additional weeks would be available, for a total of 26 weeks of extended benefits.
Schumer said House and Senate Democratic leaders have disagreed on what to include in the package, including whether to offset the $52 billion, 10-year cost of increasing veterans' education benefits. But he stressed that extending unemployment insurance benefits is a priority for both House and Senate Democratic leaders, especially after the Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate had increased to 5.5 percent in May from 5 percent in April -- the largest monthly increase since February 1986. "Their view is a little different from ours in terms of pay-fors." Schumer said. "But we are not letting this drop. This is very important to us, it is very important to the House."
House Majority Whip Clyburn confirmed the plan to hold off on the war bill until next week to allow the Senate to deal with the stand-alone unemployment extension bill. If, as expected, it does not pass the Senate, the unemployment extension will be kept in the broader spending package for a House vote next week. "There is a view in our leadership that we should only give [the Senate] one vote on [unemployment insurance]," said one senior Democratic aide. "That would argue against putting it in the supplemental, but at the end of the day we have to get it done." Clyburn also noted that negotiations with the White House are continuing on a number of smaller issues, including whether veterans' college education benefits could be transferred to their families. Schumer acknowledged that keeping the provision in the supplemental package approved by the Senate does pose a risk of delaying deployment of $165 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of FY08 and part of FY09. "We face the hurdle of opposition on a supplemental bill that has to pass from the president and other Republicans," he said.
This article appears in the June 14, 2008 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.