Senate Rejects Unemployment Benefits, Extends Homebuyer Tax Credit

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

The Senate tonight hurriedly passed an extension of a tax credit for first-time home buyers, but again rejected a measure to restore and extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.

The extension of the closing deadline for the first-time home buyer tax credit until September 30 was passed by unanimous consent, clearing the way for President Obama to sign the measure. Time was of the essence since the previous deadline for people who have already qualified for the credit to close their purchases and qualify for the up-to-$8,000 tax credit was today.

But the real headline of this evening’s developments on Capitol Hill was Senate Republicans blocking yet another attempt by Democrats to restore unemployment insurance. The measure was rejected by a vote of 58-38 when it needed 60 votes to overcome a key procedural hurdle..

For the past eight weeks Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has fought to extend the unemployment benefits after they lapsed on June 2. Today there are some 1.2 million laid-off workers still waiting for their benefits to be restored – this bill would have done that and extended the benefits through November 30.

Reid tonight managed to secure the votes of the two moderate Republican senators from Maine Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, bringing him to the brink of the 60-vote threshold. However, Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted against the bill, leaving it one vote short of the 60 it needed. Even though the final tally read 58 votes in the “aye” column, Reid would obviously have supported the measure but he changed his vote to “nay” in a procedural move to allow for a re vote once it became clear that tonight’s attempt would fail. Three Republicans -- Sens. Kit Bond of Missouri, Jim DeMInt of South Carolina and Pat Roberts of Kentucky -- did not vote.

“We only needed one more Republican to get this done,” a frustrated Reid said on the Senate floor.

If there is a silver lining for Democrats, it is that they will likely succeed in passing the jobs bill as soon as a replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd is named in West Virginia.

The stiff Republican opposition to the jobs measure has stemmed from GOP lawmakers’ aversion to tacking another $33.9 billion – the price-tag for the bill – onto the government’s soaring deficits. Instead, Republicans want to pay for the bill with funds from last year’s $787 billion stimulus package.

“We can’t support job-killing taxes and adding tens of billions to the already unsustainable national debt,” explained Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “The only reason the unemployment extension has not passed is because our friends on the other side simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn’t add to the debt. That’s it.”

Senators this evening also passed by unanimous consent an extension of the federal flood insurance program until September 30. The program had expired on June 1, but with Hurricane Alex storming in from the Gulf of Mexico, senators felt compelled to act swiftly on that front before they skip town for the next week and a half.

Wednesday night's vote was the last until senators return from a week-plus break for the 4th of July Holiday. ON Thursday lawmakers will pay tribute to Byrd as his body lies in state in the Senate chamber, then on Friday they will head to West Virginia for a memorial for Byrd in his home state, and next week they are off for the holiday recess.

-Matthew Jaffe

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