This vote was on whether to allow to go forward a measure that would extend for two months certain expired programs, including unemployment insurance benefits. In addition the bill would extend COBRA health insurance subsidies, higher Medicare reimbursements for physicians, national flood insurance and other items. Because of Congressional inaction these benefits had already lapsed for several days and Democrats were eager to push through an extension.
George LeMieux, R-Fla., said the measure would spend too much money and sought to use a parliamentary maneuver to defeat the bill as violating the Senate’s budgetary rules. Max Baucus, D-Mont., then called for a vote on waiving the rules in this case, which is what this vote was on. Technically this vote was called on what is known as a “substitute amendment,” which is essentially a complete rewrite of the underlying bill with a number of changes. Often the Senate will take up the shell of an unrelated bill, then paste in a “substitute amendment” that contains the real text of what the bill would seek to do; that is the case with this vote.
LeMieux said the bill violates rules that requires Senate bills not to raise the deficit.
“We are not supposed to be able to waive this rule, this legislation, unless it is an emergency. This is no emergency,” LeMieux said. “What is an emergency? Well, most of us think it is what Merriam-Webster says it is: an unforeseen combination of circumstances resulting in a state that calls for immediate action—an unforeseen combination of circumstances. Has it been unforeseen that we were going to have to extend unemployment compensation? Was it unforeseen that we were going to have to extend COBRA? Of course, it is not. We knew we were going to have to do this, but there is an unwillingness in this Congress to pay for things.”
Baucus responded that the average unemployment benefit is $335 per week, and that at present even those benefits have lapsed for 200,000 Americans.
“Responding to recessions is the very definition of an emergency,” Baucus said. “Extending unemployment insurance benefits is a good investment to make now. It is an investment in our economy. Unemployment benefits help our unemployed neighbors. And in helping our neighbors, unemployment benefits also help to keep open the neighborhood grocery store, and the neighborhood gas station.”
By a vote of 58-40, the motion to waive the rules was rejected. Though more voted yes than no, this particular type of vote requires 60 in order to be considered approved. All but one Democrat present voted to waive the rules (Harry Reid, D-Nev., who voted this way in order to preserve his right to call for a re-vote later, see vote 112). All but one Republican present voted against waiving the rules. The end result is that the budget rules were not waived, and the parliamentary motion to defeat the “substitute amendment” because it violates the Senate’s budget rules succeeded. At this point the amendment’s ultimate fate was in limbo, but senators continued debating other items related to the bill itself.