POLITICS: PennAve

Jobless benefits extension stalls again in Senate

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Congress,Senate,Harry Reid,David M. Drucker,PennAve,Unemployment

Legislation to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans stalled in the Senate on Tuesday after bipartisan negotiations blew up for the second time in as many weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered to allow votes on five Republicans amendments to the bill, which would have satisfied a key GOP demand for a more inclusive legislative process as a condition for supporting the extension of unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless. But Reid's offer came with a twist.

In exchange for allowing the Republicans to have their votes, Reid wanted the minority caucus to drop its filibuster of the Democratic proposal and agree to allow the benefits extension to clear the Senate with just 51 votes, rather than 60. With Democrats controlling 55 votes, that would have allowed Reid to move a Democratic proposal to extend unemployment benefits without any input from the Republicans.

Republicans declined Reid’s offer. But Reid pressed ahead with two procedural votes to advance the legislation anyway, apparently hoping to put the Republicans on the political defensive for opposing an extension of unemployment insurance. Both failed, largely along party lines.

“If we have an amendment process ... the thing we should get in exchange is an up-or-down vote on the bill,” Reid said on the Senate floor in defense of his offer to the Republicans.

The eight Senate Republicans negotiating with Reid since Friday on a compromise proposal expressed frustration with the majority leader’s tactics. In a joint news conference just prior to the vote, they vowed to withhold their support for the benefits extension until Reid incorporates some of their key demands into the Democratic proposal.

Republicans want the three-month extension's $6.5 billion price tag offset by spending cuts made elsewhere in the budget over 10 years or less. This group is promising to deliver the votes to pass the extension if Reid strikes a deal with them, regardless of whether any of the Republican amendments that get a vote are actually approved.

“Do they actually want a bill? That’s the question,” said Sen. Dean Heller, of Nevada, the lead Republican negotiator.

Tuesday's failed votes included one to end debate on a three-month extension that was not offset with other budget cuts, and another on an amendment that would pay for the program but in a manner that could not be scored by the Congressional Budget Office because the cuts would occur too far into the future.

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