Reid confident Dems will have enough votes after recess

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid is confident Democrats will have enough votes to extend unemployment benefits as soon as a successor is named for Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who died Monday.

Democrats fell one senator short of the 60 needed to overcome a Republican filibuster Wednesday night. Senators then recessed for the Fourth of July holiday.

The House passed an extended payments bill for the long term unemployed on Thursday. It awaits final action when the Senate returns to work July 12.

A new West Virginia senator, a Democrat, could be ready to be sworn in by then.

But West Virginia's Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, told The Associated Press he does not expect to start searching for a replacement until Wednesday, after Byrd is buried in Arlington, Va., next to his wife of almost seven decades, Erma.

Reid, D-Nev., "is confident we will have 60 votes when Sen. Byrd's replacement gets here," the Senate majority leader's spokesman, Tom Brede, said Thursday.

More than 1.3 million Americans whose unemployment insurance has expired are counting the days until Congress can finalize a bill and get it to President Barack Obama to sign into law.

Under the bill, payments would be extended through the end of November, and would be made retroactive to cover job seekers whose benefits expired at the end of May.

The legislation passed the House, 270-153. Nevada's three representatives voted for it. All of them referenced Nevada's worst-in-the-nation 14 percent jobless rate.

Rep. Dean Heller was one of 29 Republicans who voted for the extension, even as most GOP lawmakers complained the $33.9 billion cost is not offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

"While I believe that this legislation should have been paid for, I cannot vote against the unemployment extension when so many Nevadans are struggling to get by," he said.

Heller this week proposed an amendment that would have redirected stimulus funds to pay for the additional jobless benefits and insurance premiums for the unemployed. It was rejected by the House Rules Committee and not allowed to be offered during Thursday's debate.

"There are ways to pay for this extension, and help the unemployed without contributing to the deficit," Heller said.

Democrats have objected to tapping the stimulus, which they regard as a crucial job-generating tool. Reid and others have argued Congress customarily has considered unemployment payments to be emergency spending exempt from a deficit-fighting "pay-as-you-go" law.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said joblessness is causing desperation .

"Families in Las Vegas who depend on this assistance have been calling my office and asking me to please help because they're scared at the thought of being on the streets, unable to pay the bills or buy food for a hungry child," she said.

"Too many Nevadans cannot wait any longer for passage of this critical extension," said Democratic Rep. Dina Titus. "We all know a friend, a family member, or neighbor who has lost a job as a result of the deepest recession in a generation."

Republicans have bristled at charges by Democrats that they are to blame for the failure to complete the legislation. Reid charged last week that Republicans want to hurt the economy to improve GOP chances in the fall elections.

Republicans, including Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, say benefits should be extended, but not through deficit spending that they say will lead to a debt crisis.

Late Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed a two-month extension of jobless benefits, offset by stimulus funds. Reid objected.

Ensign said it was the seventh time that Democrats have turned away GOP proposals to provide unemployment payments that would be fully paid for.

"Democrats have allowed these unemployment benefits to expire, and repeated attempts by Republicans to reinstate these benefits for hurting Americans have been voted down by the majority party seven times now," Ensign said.

"As far as I am concerned, the majority party is to blame for the position that many Americans are in today," he said. " I am just as frustrated as many Nevadans are about the lack of real economic policies coming from the Democrats in Washington to incentivize job creation and bring our economy back from the brink."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.