Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to give Senate Republicans what they've been asking for—a paid-for extension of unemployment benefits.
Only, Republicans are not too thrilled at the prospect.
With arms folded and scowls on their faces, Senate Republicans watched Reid shoot down their requests for amendments on the three-month, $6.4 billion legislation authored by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. It's true, Republicans say, they wanted offsets, but just as important was the chance to vote on their amendments.
"Their good faith is being rewarded with a kick in the teeth," Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said of his colleagues.
Not only have their amendments so far not been scheduled for a vote, but Reid is planning a roll call on a Democratic amendment. It's a yearlong extension of the benefits—which was always what Reid had sought—paired with an offset that extends sequestration for a year and incorporates part of a proposal from Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio that cuts off Americans who get unemployment and disability benefits.
The offset was meant to entice Republicans and served as the backbone of a deal that disintegrated last week as Republicans balked at the pay-for. Pushing savings 10 years into the future doesn't pass muster, Cornyn and others said.
So, if Republicans vote to block the measure, which they were inclined to do, Reid could denounce them for defeating legislation they suggested they would support.
Reid told Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week, with Republican lawmakers watching, that he did not intend to allow any of their amendments. That position, though, seems to be softening. By the weekend, Reid signaled he would consider his colleagues' amendments as long as they are germane and do not touch the Affordable Care Act.
The whiplash-inducing debate, mired by partisan procedural feuding, is headed for its resolution this week, with the prospects for a bill to clear the Senate, let alone the House, looking as bleak as ever.
Democrats emphasize the stakes: 1.4 million Americans without long-term unemployment benefits, 72,000 more added each week. Republicans, meanwhile, urge reform of the system that would add job-training programs while also reducing the debt and deficit.
This debate is playing out against the backdrop of a government spending bill, which top appropriators are expected to unveil later this week, including a short-term continuing resolution to keep operations running while lawmakers complete their work. Senior Democrats shot down the possibility that the unemployment insurance extension, which has been included as part of larger bills recently, could find its way into the omnibus.
Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray tried to include the measure in December's budget deal, but House Republicans shot the idea down. Whether Democrats would try again to include it in the omnibus spending bill, though, looks unlikely.
"There's a lot of things that could have been put in the budget agreement if there had been agreements," Murray said. "This is not one of them."
This article appears in the January 13, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.