Democrats Counterpunch on Jobless Benefits Vote

Posted April 12, 2010 at 3:43pm

The Senate Democrats’ top vote-counter told reporters Monday he believed not a single Republican would have voted for a short-term extension of unemployment benefits if the chamber had stayed in session before the spring recess to debate the issue.

The comments by Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) were in response to Republican claims that they wanted to stay in session after the Senate’s final health care vote on March 25 to work on the unemployment legislation but Democrats instead chose to start the two-week recess.

However, Durbin said he was optimistic some GOP Senators would change their mind in time for a test vote Monday on unemployment insurance.

“Some of them were reluctant when we left,” Durbin said on a conference call Monday referring to Republican Senators. “I hope that they’ve cooled down a little bit and will join us today.”

Durbin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, used the conference call to hammer on the theme that GOP Senators are engaged in a pattern of obstruction that hurts out-of-work Americans.

The comments came in advance of a key procedural vote slated for Monday evening in the Senate on legislation that would provide a short-term, retroactive extension of unemployment insurance and health care benefits for the unemployed that expired April 5.

Durbin said Democrats decided to leave town as scheduled for the spring break, rather than keep the Senate in session through the weekend of March 26, because Democratic leaders determined “that staying until Saturday wouldn’t have made any differences.”

“There was no indication the Republicans were going to provide us any support,” Durbin said.

Two weeks later, Durbin said he is fairly confident Democrats will pick up the needed GOP votes to overcome a filibuster led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who wants lawmakers to accept funding offsets for the benefits extension.

The Senate will vote Monday evening to limit debate, or invoke cloture, on a motion to proceed to the short-term benefits extension.

Providing further evidence that Democrats are hoping to gain election-year mileage out of Republican opposition to the short-term extension, Van Hollen described the vote as an “important moment” in the Senate.

“It’s interesting that they decided to draw the line on fiscal issues when it comes to working Americans as opposed to tax cuts for the wealthiest or two wars that we’ve been engaged in,” Van Hollen said.