Is There a Way Forward on Unemployment Insurance in the Senate?

Democrats are searching for just one Republican to break the deadlock.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speak on unemployment insurance on January 14, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Add to Briefcase
Sarah Mimms
Feb. 25, 2014, midnight

As sen­at­ors re­turned to Wash­ing­ton on Monday after an ex­ten­ded Pres­id­ents Day hol­i­day, Demo­crats got back to work in their hunt for just one more Re­pub­lic­an to back an ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits.

Demo­crats have nar­rowed their search sig­ni­fic­antly and are work­ing with three po­ten­tial swing votes — Sens. Rob Port­man of Ohio, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Dan Coats of In­di­ana — to pass the ex­ten­sion.

Of the three, Kirk is con­sidered the most likely to jump on board with the bill, ac­cord­ing to a seni­or Demo­crat­ic aide. Though Port­man was work­ing with a bi­par­tis­an group to come up with a pal­at­able solu­tion as re­cently as last week, he is in­creas­ingly con­sidered an un­likely yea.

That may be be­cause, as he said Monday, Port­man is still fo­cused on pur­su­ing a three-month ex­ten­sion of the pro­gram, rather than the year­long fix many Demo­crats are hop­ing for. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Monday that a short-term solu­tion may have been an at­tract­ive op­tion for his party a few weeks ago, but time is just about up.

Ne­go­ti­at­ors are pur­su­ing ret­ro­act­ive le­gis­la­tion that would re­im­burse in­di­vidu­als for the be­ne­fits they missed after the pro­gram ex­pired on Dec. 28. A three-month ex­ten­sion, which would ex­pire at the end of March, wouldn’t provide them with much se­cur­ity mov­ing for­ward.

“You know, we want to pass it. But with each passing day a three-month ex­ten­sion, par­tic­u­larly if it’s ret­ro­act­ive, be­comes simply a lump-sum pay­ment,” Reed said. “So, it’s just a ques­tion really of tim­ing. If we could get things done im­me­di­ately, as we tried to do sev­er­al weeks ago, then that made all the sense in the world. Now, we’re just get­ting to the point where if you’re talk­ing about something that’s strictly ret­ro­act­ive that’s a lot dif­fer­ent than at least giv­ing people a chance not only to make a pay­ment, but to have some susten­ance go­ing for­ward.”

The ne­go­ti­ations, which are on­go­ing, fol­low a vote earli­er this month in which four Re­pub­lic­ans joined with Demo­crats to pass an ex­ten­sion, leav­ing ad­voc­ates just one vote short of end­ing de­bate to se­cure a vic­tory. Since then, mem­bers have been home in their dis­tricts for more than a week, en­joy­ing an ex­ten­ded hol­i­day. Demo­crats hope that their Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues en­dured suf­fi­cient com­plaints from con­stitu­ents suf­fer­ing without their un­em­ploy­ment be­ne­fits to soften their po­s­i­tions on the is­sue.

Ap­prox­im­ately 1.9 mil­lion formerly eli­gible Amer­ic­ans are cur­rently liv­ing without the be­ne­fits, a total that is es­tim­ated to in­crease by 72,000 in­di­vidu­als every week. Demo­crats in both cham­bers have com­mit­ted to passing an ex­ten­sion, while Re­pub­lic­ans, par­tic­u­larly in the House, have been reti­cent to jump on board.

For now, the battle lines are be­ing drawn in the Sen­ate, where Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id is work­ing with Reed and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. — who have co­sponsored sev­er­al bills to re­in­state the be­ne­fits — to bring more Re­pub­lic­ans in­to the fold. Re­id per­son­ally called Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who is a strong sup­port­er on the Re­pub­lic­an side, on Monday, and Collins said she had dis­cussed the is­sue with her col­leagues over the week­end as well.

Collins wouldn’t spec­u­late on wheth­er pro­gress was be­ing made, but offered a warn­ing to Re­id, who has re­fused to al­low Re­pub­lic­ans to of­fer amend­ments on a fix in the past. “It all de­pends on wheth­er there are amend­ments, what hap­pens to those amend­ments, where there’s a fair pro­cess,” she said.

Kirk, mean­while, said Monday that he had not been in talks with Demo­crats over the week-and-a-half re­cess, but said that as a mod­er­ate, he wasn’t sur­prised that the party was reach­ing out to him.

Kirk noted that he is seek­ing “a real no-gim­micks pay-for” to off­set the cost of ex­tend­ing the pro­gram. Kirk op­posed a bill last month that would have paid for the be­ne­fits ex­ten­sion through a pro­cess called “pen­sion smooth­ing,” which has been widely panned by Re­pub­lic­ans as a budget­ary gim­mick that will save money in the short-term and cost even more in the long-run.

Coats said he wasn’t in­volved in the talks over the break either, but that his staff con­tin­ued to dis­cuss the is­sue with Demo­crats. Asked wheth­er he sees a path for­ward, Coats de­murred: “Well there’s al­ways a way for­ward, but as you know get­ting from start to fin­ish here is not the easi­est thing to do. So any­way, it all con­tin­ues.”

Should the sen­at­ors come to a deal whereby they can ex­pect 60 votes, however, pas­sage is ex­pec­ted as early as Monday.

Reed soun­ded hope­ful, but guarded, on Monday. “There’s a lot of thought­ful dis­cus­sion on both sides. And I think it’s — I’ll leave it at that. That’s usu­ally the pre­lude to any kind of for­ward mo­tion,” he said.

But if the ex­ten­sion does fail again, Re­id has com­mit­ted to keep up the fight and Demo­crats will con­tin­ue to use the is­sue as midterm elec­tion mes­saging.

What We're Following See More »
WOULD HAVE BEEN HIS SECOND STINT
Howard Dean Pulls out of DNC Race
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chair, announced he's pulling out of the running to regain the chairman's post. Dean "announced in a pre-recorded video to a conference of state Democratic chairs that he would step aside to allow for a new face to lead the party as it seeks to rebuild."

Source:
RUBENSTEIN FUNDING ELEVATOR REPAIR
Washington Monument Closed until 2019
6 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Once again, businessman and philanthropist David M. Rubenstein has come through for the National Park Service. This time, he's pledged funding needed to modernize the Washington Monument's elevator-- but the monument will remain closed until 2019 while repairs and improvements are underway. Rubenstein's donation of between $2-3 million, announced Friday, will correct those ongoing elevator issues, which have shuttered the monument since August 17."

Source:
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
FILED BY JILL STEIN
Michigan Attorney General Sues to End Recount
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

Bill Schuette, Michigan's attorney general, has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the state to halt the recount of the state's voting results. The recount was elected by Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Schuette says the recount shouldn't occur because Stein cited no evidence of voter fraud or tabulation error.

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
11 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login