The Senate finally passed a 30-day extension of unemployment insurance and health care benefits for the unemployed, but not before benefits had expired for hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans and thousands of others were furloughed from construction jobs as federal funding expired. The legislation had been held up by Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY) who wanted to offset the costs of the bill, while other Republican Senators threatened to block the bill if they were not promised a vote on a measure to reduce the estate tax for millionaires.
The President signed the 30-day extension into law on Tuesday evening, just hours after the bill had passed.
Senators then returned to legislation extending jobless benefits, as well as many expiring tax provisions, through the end of the year. The Senate took up a substitute amendment (S. Amdt 3336) for the House "tax extenders" bill that was passed in December. The Senate version was expected to contain a reinstatement of the estate tax (which is temporarily repealed for 2010), but it was not included. However, many amendments to the bill are being offered and it's still unclear whether any will address the estate tax. President Obama and Democratic leaders want to reinstate the estate tax at the level in effect in 2009 (which was cut down about 50 percent from the pre-Bush level) while Senate Republicans and a few Senate Democrats wish to cut the estate tax even further.