Senate blocks jobless aid
By: Burgess Everett
January 14, 2014 03:39 PM EST
The Senate blocked two separate proposals to revive emergency unemployment benefits that expired in December, all but killing the prospects of reviving jobless aid for now.
The chamber voted 52-48 to reject a bill that would have extended benefits through November and pay for it by extending the sequester’s mandatory spending cuts into 2024. A different measure to extend the aid for three months — without a pay-for — was defeated 55-45.
Both measures needed 60 votes to advance.
The votes capped a tumultuous week of positioning on the bill, which fits into the Democrats’ election year focus on income inequality. There was initial progress last week when six Republicans joined with Democrats to open debate on the issue. But that goodwill quickly devolved into partisan sparring over the length of the benefits and whether to pay for their continuation.
Until just before Tuesday’s roll calls, it was unclear if the vote would even go forward. Several previously scheduled votes were canceled, some due to weather problems last week and others because of familiar partisan divides.
By Tuesday, the debate centered almost entirely on procedural questions and the partisan tension between the Senate’s top Democrat and Republican was on full display.
In response to Republican requests that they be allowed votes on their amendments to the bill, Democrats agreed to consider five Democratic and five Republican amendments at a 60-vote threshold, with a catch: That the GOP would consent to a simple majority vote on the underlying bill, which would extend emergency benefits through November.
Republicans swiftly rejected the offer from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said Republicans were trying to “have their cake and eat it too” by requiring 60 votes on the underlying legislation while also demanding consideration of their amendments.
“Are Republicans filibustering unemployment insurance benefits, or are they not?” Reid said on the Senate floor.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Democratic proposal was “fundamentally unfair” and not in good faith.
“I hope you all are beginning to get the picture here, of who’s responsible for dysfunction in the Senate,” McConnell told reporters, deriding a “ridiculous offer that we couldn’t possibly accept” from Reid. “This is utterly absurd.”
Separate of the haggling over amendments, several centrist Republicans and Democratic lawmakers are talking about finding an underlying bill that both parties could support. But even those negotiations are falling short.
Democrats remain focused on either passing a three-month extension of benefits that would not be paid for, or a longer-term bill that is paid for. Most Republicans prefer a paid-for three-month extension that allow debate and consideration of larger structural changes to the U.S. unemployment program.
“We made a step in the right direction, we didn’t get there unfortunately,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who is a central player in the unemployment debate.