Dems Don’t Like Shorter-Term Unemployment Deal, but They’ll Lump It

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill February 1, 2011 in Washington, D.C.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Jan. 29, 2014, 3:04 p.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crats have little to gain polit­ic­ally by com­prom­ising to ex­tend fed­er­al un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance for just three months. It’s less than the full-year ex­ten­sion they hoped for and makes it tough­er to tar Re­pub­lic­ans as ob­struc­tion­ist.

There’s one prob­lem: Some Demo­crats really want this.

“I’d love to push for a 12-month ex­ten­sion,” said Sen. Richard Blu­menth­al of Con­necti­c­ut. “But folks are out of work and without any sort of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, and they’re suf­fer­ing.”

A deal to ex­tend the be­ne­fits for three months, paid for by re­forms to pen­sion policy, is com­ing to­geth­er, Demo­crat­ic and Re­pub­lic­an law­makers said Wed­nes­day. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id said he is close to se­cur­ing the 60 votes he would need to ad­vance the le­gis­la­tion.

The short­er-term deal, in­clud­ing the pay-for, rep­res­ents a re­trench­ment for Demo­crats. Re­id and his caucus pushed a nearly year­long, un­paid-for bill on the floor earli­er this month, but Re­pub­lic­ans blocked it.

What changed, Demo­crats say, is simply that the more time the is­sue goes un­re­solved, the more their long-term un­em­ployed con­stitu­ents pay the price.

“I un­der­stand we’re in a polit­ic­al en­vir­on­ment and that we have to com­prom­ise,” said Sen. Ben Cardin of Mary­land. “If the three months can be done in a way that is con­sensus around here I cer­tainly will be a part of that.”

Demo­crats seem resigned to the pro­spect of re­treat­ing on their po­s­i­tion.

“If that’s what we’re able to work for, then so be it,” said Sen. Bri­an Schatz of Hawaii, who prefers a 12-month ex­ten­sion. “Then we’ll re­vis­it this is­sue in a few months.”

Ex­cept the ex­ten­sion could die in the Sen­ate, be­cause House Re­pub­lic­ans have been un­will­ing to take the is­sue up. But for now, among the rank and file, there’s an air of com­prom­ise in the Sen­ate.

“The good news is the talks are back on track, and I think we’re mak­ing pro­gress,” said GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who is help­ing to broker the deal.

Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who au­thored the ori­gin­al ex­ten­sion bill that was blocked last month, soun­ded op­tim­ist­ic about the chances of get­ting a bill — and amend­ments — to the floor.

“[We’re] gonna test the wa­ter on this and see how many Re­pub­lic­ans are in­ter­ested,” he said. “The pay-for is three months. So it’s fa­vor­able.”

A bi­par­tis­an group of sen­at­ors might be hash­ing out a deal, but make no mis­take, Demo­crats have not giv­en up the is­sue as a polit­ic­al bat­ter­ing ram head­ing in­to Novem­ber.

“Every time we reach the bar, they go back to where they were. They don’t want un­em­ploy­ment ex­ten­sion be­ne­fits be­cause they don’t be­lieve in them,” Re­id said. “But we do. And we hope that we can get five cour­ageous Re­pub­lic­ans to step over the line. We’re very close right now.”

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