Senate Dems to test GOP on jobless bill without offset

Senate Democrats will attempt to push through a jobless benefits bill without offsetting the costs, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said Wednesday.

“There's no certainty right now, obviously, but between today and tomorrow we're going to have — likely to have — at least another vote and then we'll see where people are,” Casey said. 

Several Republican senators who voted in favor of a procedural motion earlier this week said they won’t provide the votes for the bill to hop another 60-vote hurdle unless the measure’s $6.4 billion cost is offset.

A move by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring up the same bill would effectively dare those GOP lawmakers to sink the bill and risk having the blame fall on Republicans.

“I’m opposed to offsetting emergency unemployment benefits,” Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wasted no time responding.

“If the majority leader wants this bill to pass the Senate, then he's likely going to have to find a way to pay for it,” McConnell said.

The Senate on Wednesday is expected to pass a second procedural measure, to proceed to the bill, setting the stage for debate through the rest of the week. The motion to proceed requires support from only 51 senators.

Casey noted that Tuesday's 60-37 result was something of a surprise, as it initially appeared supporters lacked the GOP backing to defeat a filibuster. In the end, Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Dan Coats (Ind.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) joined Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a co-sponsor of the bill, in advancing the measure.

“I wouldn't be as conclusive or categorical today about what might happen, because a lot less than 24 hours before the vote yesterday, the votes weren't there,” Casey said. “So I think there's a lot of momentum that's been built up.”

Still, most of those Republicans have suggested they won't support the bill again without an offset.

“There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit,” Coats told MSNBC Wednesday.

Asked if he thought the Republicans were bluffing with their threats, Casey said, “We'll see. It's fluid.”

Much of the Democrats' strategy relies on keeping the unemployment issue in the headlines in hopes that voters will pressure Republicans into a change of heart.

“The best strength we have is public sentiment,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Wednesday at a pep-rally for the extension in the Capitol.

Both Pelosi and Casey said that, while they favor a three-month extension without an offset, they're willing to look at GOP proposals to cover the costs. Still, the Democrats have not been optimistic that such bipartisanship is possible surrounding the three-month extension.

“If there's a way to get it done with that [an offset], we can certainly consider that,” Casey said. “The problem with it [is that] every time you talk about an offset with the Republicans ... they move the goal post.”