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 »
INTERVIEW THIS WEEK
Trump Still Considering Yellen For Fed
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump plans to formally interview Janet Yellen this week about potentially staying on as Federal Reserve chair, two people familiar with the matter said...Many Republicans on Capitol Hill want Trump to move on from Yellen, whose first term ends in February, and choose a more traditionally conservative Fed chair."

Source:
NOMINEE FOR ONDCP
Trump Noncommittal on Marino
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS
IN LIGHT OF 60 MINUTES REVELATIONS
Manchin Asks Trump to Drop Marino’s Nomination for Drug Czar
7 hours ago
THE LATEST
WOULD OVERTURN MARINO LEGISLATION ON DRUG DISTRIBUTORS
McCaskill Will Introduce Bill in Response to “60 Minutes” Scoop
7 hours ago
THE DETAILS

In the wake of Sunday's blockbuster 60 Minutes/Washington Post report on opioid regulation and enforcement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) has introduced legislation that "would repeal a 2016 law that hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to regulate opioid distributors it suspects of misconduct." In a statement, McCaskill said: “Media reports indicate that this law has significantly affected the government’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors that are failing to meet their obligations and endangering our communities."

Source:
MCDONNELL PRECEDENT DOESN’T GET HIM OFF THE HOOK … YET
Judge Refuses to Dismiss Charges Against Menendez
7 hours ago
THE LATEST

"The judge overseeing in U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez’s case says he won’t dismiss any charges against the New Jersey Democrat. Judge William Walls ruled against defense lawyers’ arguments that the charges should be dropped because they didn’t meet a narrower definition of bribery under a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that reversed the conviction of Republican former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell."

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