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Democrats, polar vortex delay unemployment benefits votes

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. at a November news conference calling for renewing long-term unemployment benefits. Reed is co-sponsor of a measure to temporarily extend benefits to 1.3 million Americans. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call.

Senate Democrats abruptly postponed a vote Monday evening to extend unemployment insurance, buying themselves some extra time to search for enough Republican votes to advance the legislation. Despite the delay, it appeared Democrats remained short of the 60 supporters needed to move forward with the proposal, which is now scheduled for a procedural vote Tuesday morning.

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The measure put forward by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., would provide emergency unemployment benefits to 1.3 million Americans for an additional three months, at a cost of about $6 billion. Republicans are demanding that the price be offset with spending cuts.

Speaking on the floor Monday, Reed urged his colleagues to back the proposal, which would give lawmakers time to negotiate a long-term solution. “Give us three months to work on issues, work on funding, work on anything else. But don’t leave these people without anything, throwing them off the cliff,” Reed said.

As the vote neared, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, objected to the timing, noting that many lawmakers had not yet returned to Washington because of travel delays due to weather.

“This is a serious issue, but if this was anything other than a political exercise, the Majority Leader would have rescheduled this vote when we did not have 17 members of the United States Senate unable to be here and vote on this,” Cornyn said.

“This ought to be postponed to a later time when we can have a real debate, we can also look for how to pay for this extension of unemployment benefits and how to get the economy growing again so people can find jobs,” he added.

In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked that the vote be pushed back to Tuesday morning.

Three Republican Senators have said they would join Democrats in supporting the plan. They are Heller, plus moderates Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Politico’s Burgess Everett reports that President Barack Obama has been working the phones in an attempt to sway GOP lawmakers:

Though she planned to vote for the bill, Collins said she told Obama to “help us find an offset for it.” Collins declined to say how Republicans prefer to pay for the legislation because she did not want to “preempt” talks among Senate Republicans who are trying to find a way to pay for the legislation.

“I also talked with him about restructuring the program. What I argued is that if someone is unemployed for more than a year it is very likely that the job that they once had is not coming back. And that it would be better if as a condition of continued unemployment benefits for us after a year, for us to link it to a job training program,” she said. “He seemed very interested.”

Even as the president works the phones, he also intends to apply pressure by rallying public support for the measure. Mr. Obama will host an event at the White House Tuesday morning that will include people who lost their unemployment benefits in December.

Should the extension fail to win enough support Tuesday, Democrats plan to keep at the issue, having signaled that they intend to make income inequality a theme for the duration of the 2014 midterm cycle.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa note that the income gap is shaping up to be a central issue for both parties in the upcoming campaign:

But there is deep disagreement among Republican leaders and strategists over whether to embrace an economic-mobility agenda in the 2014 midterm campaigns. Some Republicans are wary of doing so, seeing it as playing on Democrats’ home turf, and think they are better off drawing voters’ attention to the rocky rollout of the health-care law and other problems plaguing Obama.

“People on the right say, ‘We don’t have to have much of a forward-looking agenda, and it gives a target to Democrats if we put things forward, and let the liberals crumble under their own weight,'” said Peter Wehner, a former adviser in the Reagan administration and both Bush administrations and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

But Wehner added that what may help Republicans in the 2014 midterms may hurt them in the 2016 presidential election, which will attract a larger electorate with more minorities. “The problem with the Republican Party is they’re out of step and out of tune and out of touch with many Americans,” he said.

Still, outside conservative groups are pressuring Republican lawmakers to block an extension of unemployment benefits.

“Taxpayers not cannot afford tens of billions in new spending,” Heritage Action for America said in a statement. “And even if lawmakers attempt to offset this new spending with real cuts elsewhere, they would still be throwing taxpayer money at an ineffective and wasteful program.”

Andrew Roth, the vice president of government affairs for the Club for Growth, wrote: “Congress should end the federal unemployment insurance program and return the authority back to the states, which already have programs in place. Absent this, Congress should pay for this extension by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget.”

The NewsHour looked at the debate over extending emergency benefits on Monday’s program. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez outlined the Obama administration’s reasoning in an interview with Gwen Ifill. Conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director under President George W. Bush, also joined Gwen on the topic.


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  • Two words: polar vortex. NewsHour anchor Gwen Ifill spoke with Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay on handling the extreme cold in their cities.

  • Miss yesterday’s Morning Line on the political strategy on long-term unemployment insurance benefits? Read it here.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


Aileen Graef and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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