Coburn blocks extension of unemployment benefits, threatens start of recess

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has blocked passage of a crucial package of expiring provisions, including extended unemployment insurance benefits that are scheduled to run out on April 5.

Coburn has balked at Democrats’ request for unanimous consent to pass the extensions, threatening a standoff similar to one that pitted Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) against the Democratic leadership last month.

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Unless Democrats reach a deal with Coburn, senators may have to return to the Capitol on Saturday to vote to end the filibuster, delaying the start of the Easter recess. Coburn could even force his colleagues to return again Sunday to vote on final passage.

Senate sources, however, say Democratic leaders and Coburn are on the cusp of a deal and expect Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to announce it soon.

In addition to extending unemployment insurance, the legislation would prolong a freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors' Medicare payments; extend COBRA healthcare subsidies for the unemployed; and extend a satellite television licensing agreement that could leave rural residents without network TV if it expired.

Coburn said he would not agree to extensions unless their cost was offset and would not add to the federal deficit.

The protest could force Reid to miss a politically important event scheduled for Saturday in Nevada with Wayne LaPierre Jr., CEO of the National Rifle Association.

Reid is to appear with LaPierre to mark the opening of the new Clark County Shooting Park, which Reid helped build just north of Las Vegas.

Reid instructed the Senate sergeant at arms to call senators to the chamber to resolve the impasse, a rare instance of the leader invoking a live quorum call.