Senate notes

Max Baucus is new ambassador to China
Montana Sen. Max Baucus was elevated to ambassador to China Thursday by his Senate colleagues. They confirmed his nomination by President Obama on a vote of 96-0. Nebraska Sens. Deb Fischer and Mike Johanns voted for Baucus, a Democrat who served nearly 36 years in the Senate. Baucus voted “present” on his nomination. Not voting were Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, and Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.

Unemployment extension fails again, Johanns and Fischer opposed
The Senate fell one vote shy Thursday of moving ahead on legislation that would have renewed extended unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans. Nebraska Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, both Republicans, voted against the extension.

S. 1845 picked up four “yes” votes from Republicans, but failed 58-40. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the 59th vote, changed his “yes” vote to “no” to preserve the bill’s procedural status as eligible for reconsideration.

It was the Senate’s second failed attempt to renew extended unemployment benefits since they expired Dec. 28.

The $6.4 billion extension was negotiated between Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada. Heller, Collins, Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska provided the extension’s only Republican “yes” votes.

The latest extension attempt would have been paid for through changes in the federal retirement programs, known as “pension smoothing.” Republicans have no objection to pension smoothing, but would rather use the money to restore small cuts in cost of living adjustments in military retiree benefits.

An attempt to pass a three-month extension that would not be paid for also failed Thursday, 55-43. It was also opposed by Sens. Johanns and Fischer.

States individually determine the length and amount of unemployment benefits, but Congress commonly extends unemployment benefits in period of high unemployment. These extensions are paid for by the federal government.

Nebraska Senate candidate Dinsdale would be third richest member of Congress

Using data from Roll Call and financial disclosure forms, the Omaha World-Herald is reporting that banking executive and Republican Senate candidate Sid Dinsdale would be at least the third wealthiest member of Congress if elected today. His competitors in the race for Sen. Mike Johanns’ seat are far from poor, but none has wealth even approaching that level.

Dinsdale, chairman of the Pinnacle bank holding company started by his family, is worth at least $110 million, according to the World-Herald, but could be worth much more because assets are reported in broad categories. He would rank third in Congress behind Rep. Darrell Issa, Republican from California, who is worth at least $335 million, and might surpass Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, who is worth at least $114 million. Issa made his fortune in car alarms. McCaul married into one of the nation’s largest telecommunications companies.

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