Dems make another push for jobless benefits renewal

Congressional Democrats made a last-ditch effort on Thursday to convince Republicans to back a three-month renewal of a federal unemployment benefits program, as the measure faces another stall out.

Senate Democratic leaders argued they have worked with Republicans to pay for the $6.4 billion short-term reauthorization.

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"We've bent over backward,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) about his efforts to address Republican concerns. 

But there seemed to be no resolution over Republican demands to offer amendments to the measure, leaving its fate up in the air again. 

After weeks of talks, Senate Republicans and Democrats have failed to reach an agreement on how to move forward.

The Senate has two votes starting at 2 p.m. — one on the new paid-for three-month bill worked out by Reed and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and a second, if that vote fails to get 60 supporters, on a base three-month renewal without offsets.

The cost of the paid-for measure is covered by "pension smoothing" of federal retirement programs.

The offset isn't particularly controversial but several have argued that they have better ideas on how to pay for the bill. 

They also have signaled they might want to use that pay-for to eliminate cuts to veterans cost-of-living adjustments that were included in the December budget deal. 

In response, Democrats put up their hands on Thursday, arguing they have done everything possible to meet Republican demands. 

“We've given the Republicans a good opportunity and a fair deal. All they have to do is say yes,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he is expecting the measure to fail.

“It seems Republicans are poised to block this important legislation one more time despite the fact that we’ve met every one of their demands,” Reid said.

"I’m beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to 'yes.' "

House Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) echoed the sentiments of Senate Democrats and urged Republicans to put aside their procedural issues. 

"Republicans asked for a pay-for, and it's going to be paid for, so they need to step up to the plate," he told MSNBC on Thursday.

Levin urged Republicans to provide the five votes needed to bring the bill up for discussion again. 

But if the Senate fails to reignite debate, Levin said Democrats would continue their efforts to pass a bill. 

"We're going to keep on working. We're talking about lifelines. These people are looking for work," he said.

About 38 percent of all the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months.

The federal jobless program expired at the end of December and left 1.3 million without benefits.

Democrats argue that number has grown to 1.7 million in just over a month.

The Reed proposal also includes an amendment from Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that would stop millionaires from collecting unemployment benefits.