Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 28, 2015

Jobless Bill Descends Into Procedural Black Hole (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:17 p.m. | The Senate’s debate over extending unemployment benefits devolved back into an all-too-familiar feud over considering amendments, with Majority Leader Harry Reid saying flatly that he wouldn’t allow GOP alternatives.

“We have been waiting for — this is Thursday — since Monday to get a proposal from the minority, from the Republicans as to what they believe would be a good way to pay for this … other than whack Obamacare,” the Nevada Democrat said in response to a query from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, about allowing amendments.

Reid again dismissed a Republican offer from Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire that would effectively eliminate child tax credits for undocumented immigrants.

“The answer is we’re where we are now. We’ve tried a number of different ways on many pieces of legislation to say OK, let’s have — let’s just do germane amendments. No. How about relevant amendments. No,” Reid said of the Republican response to various amendment offers in recent years.

“We get nowhere with dueling amendments,” Reid also said. “We’ve learned that in the past, dueling amendments doesn’t do the trick.”

That’s in reference to the practice of allowing each party to secure a vote on an amendment to the same piece of legislation knowing full well that neither will be adopted.

Democrats floated a proposal to pay for extended unemployment insurance through mid-November with changes to Medicare many years in the future. But it quickly became clear this was not the kind of bipartisan amendment that would be needed to get a bill through the Senate.

Reid took the procedural steps to block any other amendments, meaning the bill is likely dead until there’s a broader agreement, but nothing looked imminent Thursday.

“Look at it,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said to reporters while holding and pointing at a transcript of Reid’s comments. “Reid said on the floor we don’t get anywhere by doing amendments.”

“This is the world’s greatest deliberative body, and we’re not going to do amendments? That’s insane,” Thune said. “I’d be afraid if I was a Democrat and my leader was saying things like this.”

Sen. Susan Collins said mid-afternoon that she had not yet reviewed the details of the plan, suggesting it represented a Democratic offer rather than a bipartisan agreement. Collins was one of six GOP senators who backed an effort to take up the original unemployment insurance measure, which would run for three months and does not contain offsets that would get the measure to the 60 votes needed to cut off a potential filibuster.

“I am representing the people of Indiana and their voice is shut down,” Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana, another Republican who supported the first cloture motion, told Reid on the floor.

The Democrats’ proposal would provide expanded unemployment benefits for about 11 months, with a package of offsets revolving around another extension of a mandatory spending sequester, this time into 2024. The 2011 budget deal set up a system that ultimately provided for automatic meat ax cuts on both the discretionary and mandatory sides of the ledger.

The budget agreement reached last month between Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., used an extension of the budget savings on the mandatory side to help increase the amount of money available in the short term for discretionary spending.

Update 6:17 p.m.

Preliminary numbers from the Congressional Budget Office make it even less likely that GOP senators will ultimately accept the latest proposal from Democrats. It appears the CBO won’t give credit within the usual window for the further extension of the mandatory sequester.

A chart obtained by CQ Roll Call shows a deficit increase of about $17.1 billion over the 10-year budget window used in CBO scoring. Further extending the Medicare sequester would generate significant budget savings after 10 years, but that is not within the budget window.

Agreeing to count those savings now would represent a departure from normal practice in defining budget-neutral legislation.

Comments (37)

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  1. JWH

    Jan. 9, 2014
    5:55 p.m.

    Unbelievable!

  2. papal

    Jan. 9, 2014
    9:42 p.m.

    The dems have no other choice. Dems need to hold this up unless they get all they want. The dems have painted theirselves into a corner with Obamacare and their best option is fighting with repubs in hopes the people will hate the repubs more than dems. Expect more of the same until after the 2014 elections.

    • mabramso

      Jan. 10, 2014
      12:03 a.m.

      Actually, what Reid is doing is trying to protect his MANY vulnerable fellow Democrats from having to vote on something that can be made into an effective campaign ad against them. Not sure if it will work or not.

  3. George Allegro

    Jan. 9, 2014
    11:34 p.m.

    Although liberty can accompany democratic processes, attempts to wield absolute power in the name of fleeting majorities are illegitimate.

  4. Bitter Cold

    Jan. 10, 2014
    12:25 a.m.

    While to some liberty means that we are to be free of coercion, to others it means the power to coerce us in the name of this or that.

  5. Robert Scholtens

    Jan. 10, 2014
    7:54 a.m.

    What a wonderfully descriptive title! One that will help anyone who attempts to understand what goes on in the Senate.

  6. MrSmith

    Jan. 10, 2014
    12:09 p.m.

    The big news is that Manchin voted to undo Harry’s blocking of amendments. That’s not just news it’s astonishing!
    But instead the reporting will focus on the mundane and usual. Whatever’s beside the point.

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  7. youthinasia

    Jan. 11, 2014
    1:07 p.m.

    Reid has had at least two strokes in 2013, acc to news reports. It is difficult for him to utter a coherent sentence. Why is this man still holding the “Mr. Leader” position? Democratic Senators, are you listening??

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    3:53 a.m.

    Even when democratically selected, a government committed not to principles, but to reacting to circumstances, will be forced to submit to others’ principles and to take actions it never before considered.

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