With the Christmas recess and the seating of a new Congress looming, the Senate will kick off what should be a make-or-break week for the prospect of extending unemployment benefits and tax cuts by holding a cloture vote at 3 p.m. today.
It is expected that the cloture vote — that’s the vote to end debate and take the real vote — will succeed and so will the bill, which now includes the full compromise reached by President Obama and Republican leaders to extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years and federal unemployment benefits for one year.
That then drops the bill into the lap of the House, which is where the real uncertainty lies. On Thursday the House Democratic Caucus voted to reject that compromise bill, but that was a non-binding vote among Democrats only. If the bill comes to the floor of the House for a full vote, it should be passed by a fairly wide margin.
What the caucus vote does, however, is put pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to refuse to bring the bill up for a floor vote unless changes are made. But with the Senate likely to approve the bill, that should ratchet up the pressure in the other direction as well.
There is another possibility, which is that the Senate passes the bill, the House then passes it with amendments and sends it back to the Senate. But that runs the risk of the Senate not passing the bill with the changes the House made and the whole thing ending in a standoff with no extension at all. That would leave it up to the next Congress to take the matter up.
As The Hill reports, the conventional wisdom in D.C. is that Pelosi will blink on this issue because she has little choice. She knows that if an extension is not passed before the Christmas recess the next Congress — controlled by Republicans — is likely to pass a considerably less generous extension, if one passes at all.
While all this is going on, more than 1 million Americans have already lost their unemployment benefits since the federal payments lapsed at the end of November. Hundreds of thousands more will lose them every week until the benefits are restored.