The House advanced the bipartisan budget bill on Thursday by approving a rule that sets up debate and a final vote later in the day.
Aside from the budget deal, the rule sets up votes on a one-month farm bill extension, a three-month "doc fix," and a vote on House-Senate agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The House is expected to approve each of these items in a two-day flurry of activity that will end Friday, allowing the House to leave for Christmas with its "must-do" items done.
But several Democrats said the GOP bill was missing one crucial item: an extension of emergency unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people. Most Democrats called the budget plan a good step forward, but blamed Republicans for looking to return home without extending emergency unemployment benefits past Dec. 28.
As a result, most of the debate on the rule focused on unemployment.
"My Republican friends want to leave town without addressing the issue of extending unemployment compensation for 1.3 million Americans," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). "They're going to leave town tomorrow, and on December 28, after they've opened up all their presents and wished everybody Merry Christmas and had a wonderful dinner, on December 28, 1.3 million of our fellow citizens will be cut off, totally from their unemployment compensation."
Democrats tried a last-minute procedural move to add a three-month extension of emergency unemployment benefits to the bill, but it failed in a mostly party-line vote. Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) called it a "showboat" move, and said both sides need more time to work with each other.
"The gentlemen knows that anything short of a bipartisan, bipartisan solution is showboating for those folks that are hurting," he said to McGovern.
Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) also accused Republicans of "skipping town" without addressing unemployment insurance, which Woodall also rejected.
Democrats are expected to try to hold up adjournment of the House on Friday due to the lack of an extension of unemployment benefits. But the House is expected to adjourn, and regardless, Senate Democratic leaders have said they would put forward legislation in January to extend these benefits.
Republicans have indicated that they will not pass anything to extend the emergency unemployment benefits, and have said these benefits were put in place on an emergency basis to deal with the fiscal crisis from five years ago. Woodall stressed today that regular unemployment benefits would continue even if the emergency benefits expire.
But Democrats said failure to extend the emergency benefits would hurt the economy. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) argued that continuing the benefits and spending on infrastructure is needed to keep the economy going.
"When we ignore those investments in the future, we're not reducing the deficit," she said. "We're increasing the deficit, because nothing brings more money to the Treasury than creating jobs and the revenue that produces."
Pelosi said she supported the budget plan, but called on members to vote against the rule over the unemployment issue.
The budget plan takes away $63 billion from the sequester cuts, and adds a mix of new fees and ways to prevent fraud and overpayments by the government. Those latter changes will offset the $63 billion and then some, allowing Republicans to say the deal cuts the deficit further.