By Alexander Bolton - 03/26/10 04:57 PM EDT
Unemployment insurance benefits are expected to lapse for a week next
month because of a partisan stalemate in Congress.
Most lawmakers have left town, diminishing the possibility that the Senate will vote to extend expiring unemployment insurance and COBRA health subsidies.
Many senators have already caught flights out of town for the start of a two-week Easter recess.
“There is nobody in town to vote,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). “There’s 11 of us still in town.”
Coburn blocked an effort to pass the package of extensions, which included a freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors' Medicare payments and a satellite television licensing provision to allow rural viewers to continue receiving network signals. Coburn objected to the measure because it wasn't paid for and would therefore add to the federal deficit.
Democrats have blamed Republicans for blocking the measure to extend the expiring provisions, but a GOP aide retorted that Democrats approved an adjournment resolution Thursday evening without reaching a deal on benefits.
Democratic and Republican senators reached an agreement late Thursday to pay for the $9.2 billion cost of a one-week extension. House Democratic leaders, however, balked at the proposal to offset the cost of the package because it would violate a tradition of not counting emergency spending measures against the budget.
The unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of laid-off workers and other provisions are scheduled to expire on April 5.
The Senate is scheduled to return on Monday, April 12 to vote to end a Republican filibuster blocking the legislation.
The Senate will not adjourn until March 31, giving lawmakers some chance of reaching a deal. But that would require Coburn to drop his objections because there will not be enough lawmakers present to overcome the filibuster.
Coburn, however, gave little indication that he plans to give up his blocking action any time soon.
Democrats hope they can score political points against Republicans, as they thought they did when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) blocked a similar package last month.
“Just to be clear, Democrats voted against a paid-for [unemployment insurance] extension last night and voted to adjourn the Senate,” said a senior GOP aide. “There isn’t enough spin in D.C. to put that on Republicans. Everything they said about Jim Bunning a month ago is now true of every Senate Democrat who cast both of those votes and walked out of town.”