Legislation to extend federal unemployment benefits stalled in the Senate on Tuesday, ensuring an extension will not become law until after lawmakers return from a one-week recess.
The impasse also raised real questions about whether Congress would extend the federal benefits at all. The benefits were launched by the Bush administration and expired late last month.
The motions required 60 votes for passage.
A proposal to end debate on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) proposal to extend benefits by 11 months was rejected in a 52-48 vote. Reid’s proposal would have paid for the extension with cuts to spending in 2024.
The Senate then rejected a motion to end debate on a three-month extension in a 55-45 vote. That bill didn’t include any spending cuts to offset the measure’s $6 billion cost.
Senate Democrats and Republicans have also been unable to agree to an amendment process.
Reid proposed limiting amendments to five for each party and said he would insist on a 60-vote threshold, which guarantees that no GOP amendments would be approved. He then said that, in return for allowing amendment votes, Republicans should let the bill be approved or rejected by a simple majority vote, without the need for a 60-vote threshold to end debate.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the proposal is a nonstarter and offered a counterproposal of Democrats agreeing to an open amendment process that would let each party alternate between amendment proposals.
McConnell also asked for a vote to table Reid’s pending motion on the bill in order to allow consideration of various amendments.
Predictably, the Senate voted McConnell’s motion down 45-55.
The major sticking point between the two sides has been whether to pay for the cost of extending the benefits. Republicans in the House and Senate argue it should be paid for, and House Republicans also want some of their job proposals to be considered in tandem with extending unemployment benefits.
Democrats have argued the benefits represent emergency spending, though they have expressed a willingness to find offsets.
Extending the benefits is also playing into a 2014 income inequality election theme for Democrats, who are trying to portray Republicans as out of touch with the country on economic issues.
Senate Republicans have sought to prevent that image from sticking to them, as they have argued the benefits should be paid for with spending cuts.
Reid said Tuesday he remained hopeful Congress could approve an extension when it returns.
“I would hope we could get that passed sometime,” Reid said on the floor Tuesday. “If we can’t, there’s still an effort — I’m sure out there someplace — that we could find a way to work together.
A group of negotiators from both parties have sought to reach a deal on paying for the extension of the benefits. Senate
Republicans argued on Tuesday afternoon that they are prepared to continue negotiations on the bill to find suitable offsets.