Senate Dems put off jobless benefits

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are dropping the issue of extending federal unemployment benefits — at least for now — despite intense lobbying over the recess by outside groups targeting Republicans.

The Senate voted Monday evening to begin dealing with the bipartisan flood insurance bill, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also hopes to schedule floor work on the farm bill, military sexual assault legislation, and several of President Obama’s nominees, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide.

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The timing of the next unemployment vote is uncertain, though the aide added that Reid could bring the issue back to the floor quickly if a compromise emerges.

“Right now there’s not any kind of concrete proposal that’s gaining support on either side, so we’re in a wait-and-see period,” said another Democratic aide.

Senate Democrats are skeptical of the prospects of a deal given Republican opposition. The GOP has demanded that the cost of extending federal unemployment insurance be offset with other spending cuts.

Democrats are standing pat on their latest offer, which has drawn the support of only one Republican — Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.). It would extend unemployment benefits for 11 months, offsetting the $17 billion cost by expanding a provision included in the recent budget agreement to extend a portion of the sequester. 

“One of the things that’s frustrating is that Republicans keep changing the goal posts, the concessions that they want. We’ve already met them more than halfway and they’ve switched up,” said a third Senate Democratic aide.

A senior GOP aide said Reid should allow an open debate on the Senate floor that gives Republicans a chance to amend the legislation. 

"They haven't even taken a step in our direction. Republicans are asking for an opportunity to actually pass unemployment insurance. There's a path to passing it, but Democrats are unwilling to go down it," said the aide. 

Obama has asked allied outside groups to begin drumming up support for raising the minimum wage, which he will make a centerpiece of his Tuesday address. The president’s speech is expected to focus on the theme of income inequality.

“The White House wants us to continue on [unemployment insurance], but they really want us to start us banging the drums on the minimum wage,” said an official with an outside group working with the administration.

Reid promised not to give up on the fight to restore unemployment benefits for an estimated 1.6 million people but gave little indication of when it would happen.  

“The Democrats will continue our fight to restore benefits to 1.6 million Americans looking for work during difficult economic times,” he said.