UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS: Senators Seek Compromise
(CNN) — Senate leaders postponed a key procedural vote on Monday on a proposal to extend long-term unemployment benefits for more than 1.3 million Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would delay votes until Tuesday afternoon so that bipartisan talks aimed at reaching a compromise could continue.
Senators have yet to settle on a time-frame for any extension or the cost of such a proposal.
Negotiations center around finding ways to pay for renewing benefits, which could cost anywhere from $6 billion to $25 billion depending on how long they are extended.
Three-month and 11-month proposals have been floated with no agreement so far.
Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican who attended separate meetings in the Capitol with Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, believes it will take until Tuesday at least “before any solid agreement comes together.”
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who attended the same meetings, said the talks were making “progress” but “it’s a long way from being done.”
The recession-era program that underwrote those benefits was not renewed when it expired in the last week of December. Federal checks kick in when state unemployment benefits are exhausted.
President Barack Obama and fellow Democrats are pushing for an extension, saying to do nothing would not only negatively impact the long-term unemployed but also hurt the economy.
Republicans say at least that any extension must be paid for through other spending cuts.
Collins and Heller are in a group discussing a three-month extension that is paid for by making changes elsewhere in the budget, according to a GOP source familiar with the talks. The plan would also repeal a highly unpopular reduction in the cost of living increases to military retirees that was included in last month’s budget agreement.
Any proposal needs 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate.
Democrats initially didn’t want to pay for budget offsets but have agreed to consider them after Republicans said they would block the bill without them.
Democrats are also considering GOP ideas to reform the unemployment insurance program, such as developing worker retraining requirements.
In addition, Republicans, who complain Democrats regularly stifle their ability to amend legislation, are trying to get Democrats to agree to allow GOP floor amendments to both the unemployment bill and future legislation.
“There’s a broader issue here, which is how we might be able to function as a Senate for the year, in terms of participation on both sides in fashioning legislation,” said Sen. Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican who is also participating in the talks.
Reid said he is open to allowing amendments to the unemployment bill but doesn’t want the bill “to get bogged down by a raft of political amendments” and “stunt votes” that could kill it.
The Republican-led House has not taken up any proposal to renew extended unemployment benefits.