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Senate Passes Tourism Bill; Bunning Blocks Benefits Extender

The Senate passed the second piece of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) jobs agenda Thursday evening, approving new tourism promotion legislation by a 78-18 vote.

The vote came after Reid was again prevented from passing an extension of unemployment and flood insurance, COBRA health care benefits, highway funding, small-business loans and funding for satellite television viewing — all provisions that expire on Sunday.

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) objected to Reid’s request, which drew the ire of Democrats.

“This is something that we worked out, and when I say ‘we’ I mean Democrats and Republicans,” Reid said after Bunning objected to passing the 30-day extensions for the second time this week.

“We are not sent here to object,” Reid went on. “My friend has that right, but it is a real problem for so many different people, and I would hope that we could have a vote here, we could do it tonight, and move on to other things.”

Democrats were expected to engage in a game of chicken with Bunning late into the evening, daring him to continue objecting to the package of extenders.

“If the Senator has his way, more than 14,000 Kentucky residents will lose their benefits by March,” Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on the floor. “Why are we doing this?”

As that battle continued, Democrats hailed the passage of a tourism bill that serves as the second piece of Reid’s jobs agenda.

With the public pushing for Congress to pursue jobs-related legislation, Democrats in the Senate have sought to shoehorn as many measures into the rubric of jobs legislation as possible, including the tourism bill and an upcoming reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Thursday’s vote on the tourism bill also represented a critical victory for Reid’s re-election campaign. The bill, which is designed to promote travel to the U.S. by foreign travelers, is one of the top priorities of Nevada’s gaming and hotel industries. During a recent campaign event in Nevada, business executives pushed Reid and President Barack Obama to pass the tourism bill as soon as possible.

On Thursday, Reid hailed passage of the bill as a win for Nevada as well as the rest of the country.

“Nevada’s tourism has been hit hard by the slowing worldwide economy. And when tourism in Nevada hurts, the entire state suffers. Hardworking people have lost their jobs. The state’s budget has taken a major hit. Because that budget is largely funded by tourism, funding for vital programs in our state are at risk,” Reid said.

“But Nevada isn’t alone. Its problem is not unique. Tourism is one of the top industries in nearly every state in the country and one of the largest employers in America. That’s why this bill is so important. This is an opportunity not only to give American tourism a boost, but it is one of the many ways we are working to create jobs and help our economy recover,” he added.

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