The Senate could vote Tuesday to extend unemployment benefits that have expired for millions of Americans, Senate Majority Leader Reid said today.
At a news conference, Reid charged that GOP opposition to Democratic electoral plans reflects the hope that a continued economic slump will help the minority win seats in the midterm elections.
Republicans "are betting on failure," Reid said. "They think the worse the economy is ... the better they are going to do, election-wise."
Reid's comment follows months of Democratic criticism of Senate Republicans for opposing an extension of unemployment benefits without offsetting the cost. But it marks the first time Reid has indicated that Republicans deliberately are working to hurt the economy. It comes as Democrats try to draw a contrast with Republicans on economic plans.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey also made the charge today. The Republicans' political strategy is to slow progress in hopes it "will translate to votes for them in November," he said.
"The more that we talk about this, the more people understand what their choices are," Menendez added.
"There's not a single member on either side of the aisle that wants higher unemployment, which is why, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, we've been so disappointed in the lack of results from the Democrats' trillion-dollar stimulus bill," countered a spokesman for Minority Leader McConnell in response to Reid's statement.
After talking with West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, Reid said he expects the governor will name by early next week an interim replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to be sworn in. Reid said the Senate will then vote Tuesday to extend federal unemployment benefits, which have been expiring for millions of Americans since the end of May.
If a West Virginia replacement is in place, "then we will vote Tuesday morning," Reid said.
Shortly after Byrd's death, Democrats fell one vote short of cloture on the same bill, and they are waiting for the new senator to try again.
Across the Capitol, Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin and other House Democrats blasted Senate Republicans for the delays on the unemployment bill.
"This is a national emergency," said Levin, adding that well over two million people have now lost their unemployment insurance benefits.
Other House Democrats charged that Senate Republicans, particularly Minority Whip Kyl, with "hypocrisy" for pushing tax cuts for Wall Street and high-earners without offsetting them with spending cuts or tax increases while they insist on offsets for unemployment compensation insurance.
Meanwhile, in an exchange this morning, both Reid and McConnell said they could soon reach an agreement on amendments that would allow passage of a small-business job creation bill. But Reid said this afternoon a deal on amendments is not likely because Republicans are insisting on amendments unrelated to the bill.
"I am not sure that we are going to do amendments on this bill," Reid said. He indicated the bill could still pass with unanimous Democratic support and a few GOP votes. Reid filled the tree on the measure before the Independence Day recess, a tactic that allows him to block any amendments.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, is a co-sponsor of the bill, and Democrats hope for her vote.
Democrats also expect to pass a conference report on a financial regulatory reform bill this week.
Reid said today he also hopes to move an FAA reauthorization bill, a campaign finance bill passed by the House, energy legislation and supplemental war funding bill during this work period. Democrats have also said a new tax extenders bill and confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is on their summer agenda, giving them a daunting to-do list.
This article appears in the July 17, 2010, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.