By Jay Heflin - 06/19/10 04:15 PM EDT
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has blamed back-to-back
defeats in advancing the so-called tax extenders bill — which extends
unemployment insurance — on GOP opposition.
“The Republicans would not allow people who are out of work unemployment compensation. It’s hard for me to comprehend,” Reid said after the bill’s second failure.
Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) have yet to support the extender bill, but their votes are crucial for passage. Both have said their backing of the package is contingent on it being fully paid for.
“Senator Lieberman understands that millions of Americans are faced with difficult economic times but he believes that it will only further jeopardize our economic future and prospects for job creation if Congress continues to pass unfunded spending bills that add to the deficit and deepen the national debt,” Marshall Wittmann, the senator’s communication director, said. “He believes that just as American families must pay their bills, this legislation should be better financed with either unused stimulus money or by additional revenues.”
Lieberman and Nelson on Wednesday opposed a procedural vote on the $140 billion extender bill that would have added approximately $80 billion to the deficit. The measure failed on a 45-52 vote, with 10 Democrats joining them in opposing the bill.
On Thursday, Lieberman and Nelson were the only members of the majority that opposed a slimmed down version of the bill that would have cost $118 billion and added approximately $60 billion to the deficit. The bill failed on a 56-40 vote.
Like Lieberman, Nelson will continue to oppose the bill until it no longer adds to the deficit.
A spokesman noted the senator has “repeatedly said” the bill should be paid for.
Senate Democratic staffers were expected to work through the weekend and come up with an extender package that can win 60 votes, sources told The Hill.
Bringing a fully paid-for bill forward would go a long way toward winning over not just Lieberman and Nelson, but potentially “gettable” Republicans like Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Both lawmakers have repeatedly said a bill that adds to the deficit troubles them. A spokesperson for Collins, Kevin Kelley, said the senator’s position on the issue would not change.
“She is hopeful the Senate will continue negotiations and work quickly to come up with a compromise plan that she can support that provides assistance to those who are struggling and who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, but that does not add tens of billions of dollars to our already bloated deficit,” Kelley said.
Collins, Snowe and Nelson supported the extender substitute offered by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that was defeated, 41 to 57, on Thursday.
Thune’s bill accomplished many of the priorities Democrats have sought by resuscitating business and individual tax breaks that expired last year and extending social spending programs. It was also fully offset, in large part by using unspent stimulus funds, freezing government salaries and allowing companies to delay funding for their pensions.
“The defeat of my amendment was a missed opportunity for Congress to prove they are serious about tackling our dangerous spending habits and $13 trillion national debt,” Thune said in prepared remarks on the heels of his proposal’s defeat.
“The alternative amendment I proposed was a common sense step toward restoring fiscal sanity to our nation's runaway spending and ballooning deficit,” he added.
Senate Democrats on Friday celebrated a partial victory on extenders when they agreed to pull from the bill a fully funded, six-month extension of the so-called “doc fix,” a term that describes a delay in Medicare payment cuts to physicians. The measure was brought to the floor under unanimous consent and was not objected to by a single Republican.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the proposal’s passage was a win for bipartisanship.
“I think we’ve come up with a proposal that achieves a goal that both sides wanted to achieve, which was to get a doctor fix for at least a six-month period of time and also it is paid for,” McConnell said. “And I think that’s something both sides can feel good about.”
Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) called the development a “good omen.”
“I hope we can take this cooperation and work out the rest of the so-called extenders,” he said.