Bipartisan deal falls apart, endangering expiring unemployment benefits

A bipartisan Senate deal to briefly extend a package of expiring provisions fell apart Thursday night, endangering unemployment aid set to expire April 5.  

Senate leaders from both parties had neared a deal to allow swift passage of a package providing benefits for another week that would be fully paid for, according to Senate sources from both parties. The compromise was needed because Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked Senate Democrats from quickly passing a month-long extension. Coburn objected because its cost, $9.2 billion, wasn't offset and would increase the $12.7 trillion national debt.

House Democrats wouldn't accept the deal. Rep. John Larson (Conn.), the House Democratic Caucus chairman, said the package should extend benefits for a month and should be considered "emergency spending," which means it wouldn't need to be paid for.

With Congress set to go on a two-week Easter break starting this weekend, unemployed Americans may go without benefits for at least a week.

Larson pinned the blame on Senate Republicans for slowing down Democrats' preferred package. 

"Apparently, they need another Bunning moment to drive the point home that this is about real people," Larson told The Hill, referring to Sen. Jim Bunning's (R-Ky.) decision to block a previous extension this month.

Senate Republicans blamed Democrats in the House for turning down their offers.

“Senate Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement on a short-term, fully paid-for extension of unemployment benefits to prevent potential expiration at the end of the month," said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "Unfortunately, the bipartisan agreement that was reached in the Senate was rejected by House Democrats.”

Democrats are considering passing an extension that could be applied retroactively when they return April 12, according to Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.).

Democrats are still hoping to pass the month-long extension before the Senate adjourns Wednesday. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) repeatedly filed motions to immediately pass the longer, emergency extension by unanimous consent, only to have Coburn block it because it wasn't paid for. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also filed a cloture motion Thursday to end debate, leaving open the chance the Senate could stay in Washington this weekend and pass the one-month extension early next week.

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.

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

The two are scheduled to mark the opening of the new Clark County Shooting Park, which Reid helped build just north of Las Vegas.

J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this report.

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