WASHINGTON — Prospects dimmed Tuesday for a deal restoring long-term unemployment benefits for more than 1.3 million Americans amid partisan arguments in the Senate over process and how to pay for the extension.
In a series of largely party-line votes, Democrats and Republicans failed to advance two different proposals for reinstating unemployment benefits for those who have been jobless for longer than six months. An estimated 3,300 Mainers lost benefits when the temporary extension expired Dec. 28.
The failure raises doubts about whether the Senate will pass a measure extending the benefits before adjourning for a week-long recess, despite support on both sides of the aisle. Absent a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate, any measure faces slim odds in the Republican-controlled House.
“I am still hopeful that while it does not look very good right now that we can come together and accomplish that goal,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the authors of a Republican proposal to extend the program for another three months, told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
The first Democratic measure to fail Tuesday would have extended the program for 11 months and paid for it by adding another year to the sequestration budget cuts now slated to end in 2023. The second failed attempt would have extended the program for three months but without paying for it.
Republicans voted against the proposals – thereby preventing the necessary 60-vote threshold – because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wanted to impose what they said were unfair restrictions on amendments.
Reid, in turn, accused Republicans of obstructing a bill to help jobless workers and employing a “strategy to find something to object to no matter how hard Democrats try.”
Earlier Tuesday, the group of eight Republicans led by Collins and Nebraska Sen. Dean Heller presented a proposal to extend the benefits for three months while covering the costs in the current budget. That was shorter than the 11-month extension now preferred by Democrats and would have required more immediate cuts than Reid’s proposal to extend the sequestration cuts.
Republicans had sought to have votes on five amendments on both sides, but balked when Reid insisted that the amendments require 60 votes to pass rather than a simple majority. As a result, most Republicans voted to prevent the Democratic proposal from moving forward.
Maine’s two senators were on opposite sides of the issue, with Collins joining other Republicans who objected to the proposal and independent Sen. Angus King voting with Democrats in support of a proposal that he described as “fair.”
“Unfortunately, objections to that proposal led to the effective demise of the bill and now thousands of Mainers and millions more Americans are left stranded and wondering how they will make ends meet while they search for work,” King said in a statement. “I am disappointed by today’s votes, and I will continue to work with my colleagues to see if we can find consensus on a way forward.”