Republicans voted against the motion in unison, arguing it would add to the country’s ballooning deficit.
“We just can’t keep kicking the can down the street and say ‘Oh, we’ll take care it later on. It’ll be offset later,’” Sen. George Voinovich, a centrist Republican from Ohio, told The Hill.
“That’s all we’ve been doing these last couple of years, and I’m fed up with it.”
Voinovich, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, had voted for similar extensions in the past and hails from a state with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. That he could not stomach the cost to the budget of extending unemployment benefits again shows how budget concerns have overtaken worries about the economy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scaled back the package the Senate rejected on Thursday. The original tax extenders package cost $140 billion and added $80 billion to the deficit.
Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill ripped Republicans for much of Thursday, accusing them of refusing to help needy families and criticizing them for budget hypocrisy.
Some Democratic senators expressed puzzlement that their conservative counterparts voted for $1.3 trillion in tax cuts during the Bush administration and escalated spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. None of that spending was offset with out spending cuts, they noted.
“Now, they’re going to make their last stand on deficits by trying to take money away from the unemployed, in terms of extending benefits,” Sen. Bryon Dorgan (D-N.D.). “That’s sort of a bizarre priority as far as I’m concerned.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized Republicans for seeming to have “a tin ear when it comes to the appeals of the American people for job creation.”
But it’s not just Senate Republicans who are worried about increased spending in the face of the nation’s projected $1.5 trillion budget deficit.
Pelosi has been frustrated by opposition from House Democrats, who forced her to scale back a package of unemployment insurance extensions, aid to states and extended COBRA health insurance benefits. Vulnerable members of her caucus did not want to vote to add to the deficit without an assurance that the Senate would follow suit.
Senate Democrats on Thursday attempted to increase support for the bill by arguing unemployment has been extended for years without offsets. They also blasted Republicans for using the deficit to gain political points in the run up to November’s election.
“Somewhere along the line, throughout these charades, this job-creating, tax-cutting, loophole-closing bill has become a political football, and that is really too bad,” Reid said in comments on the Senate floor.
“The debate is focused on winning and losing and not on doing what's right, and that's really too bad.”
Senate Democratic leaders also tried to remind Republicans that when they were in charge they, too, extended unemployment benefits without offsets.
“This entire proposal is paid for except for unemployment insurance, which in a bipartisan way has always passed unpaid-for through the decades,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “But everything is paid for, so [their argument that the bill adds to the deficit] is no longer an excuse for them. And why are they doing this, it's beyond us.”
However, not every Senate Democrat supports the idea that leaders should continue the tradition by deeming continued extensions to unemployment benefits an emergency and not offsetting its cost.
“I don’t buy that distinction,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). “At some point, it ceases to be an emergency, it’s ongoing … I think the bill should be paid for.”
Crossposted from On The Money.