WASHINGTON — The Senate postponed a pair of test votes on stalled unemployment legislation Monday as Republicans and Democrats sought a compromise to restore benefits to 1.3 million long-term jobless workers who lost them abruptly late last year.
The postponement came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada met privately with two Republicans on the measure, the first in what looms as a series of election-year bills in which the political parties vie for support from economically strapped voters.
Those two primary Republican negotiators were Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller. The two met with other Republicans as well as with Reid, who planned to discuss the proposal with his caucus Tuesday.
Collins and Heller were among the six Republicans who voted with all of the Democrats last week to allow debate on the bill. Those six –- Collins, Heller, New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski – released a joint statement Monday evening. They were joined by fellow Republicans Johnny Isakson of Georgia and John Hoeven of North Dakota.
“We continue to negotiate in good faith, and we are all encouraged that we are making progress on a package that could pass with bipartisan support,” the group said.
Officials in both parties said that in the meeting with Reid, Heller and Collins proposed adding a provision to the bill to restore full cost of living benefits to military retirees under the age of 62.
Lawmakers voted to curtail the increases late last year, and now face enormous pressure from veterans groups to reverse themselves.