Senate GOP preparing alternative extenders bill offset by cuts to stimulus

Republicans are preparing an alternative bill to the Democratic tax extenders bill moving through Congress that would extend benefits through the end of June, offset by cuts in stimulus act spending.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he's preparing a standalone bill as an alternative to a $200 billion bill Democrats are hoping to pass this week, which would extend some unemployment benefits and tax credits and provide a short-term solution to the Medicare "doc fix."

"I'm working on a tax extenders bill that's paid for," Grassley said during a conference call on Wednesday with Iowa reporters. "It's time to help put tens of thousands of American workers back to work in green jobs without adding $130 billion to the deficit."

The Republican bill is meant to provide a short-term fix to a number of benefits that expire at the end of the month, providing breathing room for lawmakers through the Memorial Day recess to work on a longer-term benefits fix that is fully paid-for.

The GOP bill, described by a Republican aide as a "collaborative" effort within the Republican conference, would extend unemployment insurance through July 7th, COBRA health insurance through June 30th, the "doc fix" through July 1st, flood insurance through June 30th, the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan program until June 30th, and keep federal poverty guidelines in place through June 30th.

The Republican bill would be offset with rescissions to unspent discretionary funds from the stimulus bill.

Republicans have offered amendments in previous temporary benefits extension bills to try to offset the spending under pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules, only to fall short of the 60 votes necessary to attach such a provision.

Grassley said the GOP bill would come up before Friday as long as Democrats can't get the 60 votes needed to move forward with their current proposal, which only offsets a certain portion of the extensions.

Republicans control 41 Senate seats, meaning they could prevent the extenders bill from proceeding in favor of their own bill. A handful of Senate Republicans have broken with the party in several past votes to pass extenders bills that aren't paid for.

"[We are] starting over because what comes over from the House will not be amendable, either under process or under time," Grassley said of the bill. "So that gives us three weeks after we get back after the Memorial Day break next week to make something more permanent."