The prospects of movement on unemployment and COBRA benefits are dim. House Democrats scuttled a deal on a paid-for, one-week extension that would have taken the deadline to the first day returning from a two-week recess. At that point, Tom Coburn could easily stand in the way of progress, as is his forte, denying unanimous consent on an extension bill.
Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, yesterday prevented the chamber from passing a $9 billion measure to extend aid for a month as lawmakers prepared to leave for a two- week recess starting this weekend.
Lawmakers are unlikely to work out a deal by the time benefits begin expiring for some of the unemployed on April 5, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Manley said he anticipated lawmakers would approve the extension, along with retroactive benefits, when they return to the Capitol next month. The break ends April 12.
Chris Bowers seems to want to give Senate leaders a pass for this, but I cannot join him. My understanding was that Harry Reid filed cloture yesterday on a short-term extension; and since he knew this was coming even before voting began on the reconciliation bill, that cloture could have been filed Tuesday. That way, the cloture motion would have ripened yesterday, and the motion to proceed taken. This would have started the thirty-hour clock at that point, and if the Senate pressed through and Democrats hung together, they could have either forced a lot of Republicans into a terrible vote or actually gotten this done by this weekend. And once cloture to end debate was invoked, Coburn would have buckled and given back the post-cloture time.
But instead, this will become a political issue to wield during the recess. “Because of the GOP temper tantrum over health care, they blocked unemployment benefits for struggling Americans.” And that may be true. But there was a path to break that impasse, and the leadership chose not to take it. And there is collateral damage for that decision.
So, while Reid and Coburn are trying to hash out an agreement — Bunning eventually settled for a vote on an amendment that would have paid for the bill using unused stimulus funds, which failed — other Senators are looking at leaving and then passing legislation when they reconvene April 12. “Whatever we do will be retroactive if we don’t get it done now,” Senator Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, told reporters.
The problem with this solution is that some benefits start to expire April 5. And as the country learned the last time these provisions ran out last month during Bunning’s filibuster, that means thousands of Transportation Department workers getting laid off, gaps in unemployment and health coverage for some of the most desperate Americans and bureaucratic nightmares costing millions of dollars for the necessary paperwork to retroactively apply benefits.
Republicans are wrong to take out their loss on health care on the unemployed. Democrats are wrong not to press through and make Republicans take as many awful votes on denying aid to the needy as possible to get this done. The people who are suffering expect no less.