No Deal on Extending Unemployment BenefitsMarch 26, 2010 - by Donny Shaw
As the House was wrapping up health care reform last night, the Senate was engaged in a face-off over extending the filing deadline for unemployment benefits, which is currently set to happen on April 5th.
The sticking point: Democrats want to pass a one-month extension of the deadline, which will cost about $10 billion, without any plan to pay for it. Republicans, lead by Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK], want to extend the deadline and pay for the it with unused money form the stimulus bill.
Coburn is objecting to a unanimous consent agreement on quick passage of the Democrats’ bill that was approved by the House last week (H.R.4851). Besides the unemployment deadline, the bill would temporarily extend a slew of other expiring programs — COBRA health benefits for the unemployed, the national flood insurance program, funding for furloughed highway workers, and a delay in a scheduled 21% cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post was told by a Democratic aide that “[Majority Leader Harry Reid] was not interested in cutting a deal that pays for unemployment benefits with stimulus funds, since offsetting the government spending by withdrawing money from another part of the economy essentially nullifies the stimulative effect of the benefits.”
Complicating things is the fact that Congress is trying to leave at the end of today for a recess that will last until April 12th. If they don’t come to an agreement, the filing deadline will expire and payments could end for hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers.
Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] filed “cloture” on the bill yesterday, setting up a vote to overcome Coburn’s objections on Saturday. If the Senate were to stick around to vote on Saturday, they would then be able to hold a final vote on the bill Monday.
But it appears that the Senate is not sticking around to vote and will let UI benefits and the other programs expire. According to Mike Lillis at the Washington, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this morning that just 11 Republicans are available to vote.” This was basically expected. Republicans are bitter about the reconciliation process that Democrats used to overcome their objections and pass health care reform. Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] stated it plainly last week — “there will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” he said.
Democrats have vowed to work on extending the filing deadline for unemployment benefits right away when they come back in April. Reid says that the bill they eventually pass will be retroactive and that anyone affected by this stalemate will receive back-payments. But this means that checks will stop flowing for a couple of weeks to people that desperately need them and that state agencies that deal with this stuff will have to send out cancellation letters ad then retract them a couple weeks later.
UPDATE: The Senate has officially adjourned for the recess. Their last action was to scheulde a cloture vote on a retroactive bill for Monday, April 12 at 5:30 p.m.
Image of Coburn from SenateDemocrats used under a CC license.