Technically, it’s not the first item of business for the Senate in 2014 — Janet Yellen’s confirmation yesterday came first — but it’s the first business for the 2014 midterm elections, at least from the Democratic Party point of view. The vote on cloture for the Hary Reid-Dean Heller compromise on the unemployment-benefit extension will take place at 10:30, assuming the Senate remains on schedule:
The Senate plunged into an election-year session Monday that promises to be long on political maneuvering and less so on accomplishment, beginning with a slow-motion struggle over legislation to renew lapsed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
“I’m optimistic, cautiously optimistic, that the new year will bring a renewed spirit of cooperation to this chamber,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in the first remarks of the year on the Senate floor.
Within moments, he pivoted, accusing Republicans of “never ending obstruction” to President Barack Obama’s proposals over the past five years.
Well, so much for bipartisanship, eh? The vote was to take place last night, but Reid did wait on it until everyone had more opportunity to return to Capitol Hill. Reid also needed the time to get more Republicans to back the compromise bill, but according to WYFF, he’s still a vote short of cloture:
Backers of the Senate bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits were one vote short of the 60 they need to clear a procedural hurdle, in a vote set to happen Tuesday morning. … The other three Republicans [besides Heller] are Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, a co-sponsor of the bill; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
There are other Republicans willing to go along, if offsets on spending are included:
Many Republicans argue a $6.4 billion extension would hurt the economy and act as a disincentive to job creation. Others members of the GOP have signaled they might back an extension if the cost is offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, a Republican who often works across the aisle, got a call from Obama but missed it because he wasn’t in the office. Kirk said he wants to help people but insisted Congress must find a way to pay for the measure.
“I, obviously, have people in my state who would benefit. The better way to go is to not add to the deficit in an irresponsible way,” Kirk said.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is one of the four Republicans who said they would vote to begin debate on the bill. However, she wouldn’t rule out blocking it later if cost offsets aren’t added.
This should put Democrats on the defensive, since they pushed through the “pay-go” rule themselves with great fanfare in the first year of the Obama presidency. They have pushed for extensions ever since on an emergency basis to bypass pay-go, but four years later, the “emergency” of a bad economy isn’t exactly a winning message for 2014. On the other hand, Republicans who want to push the message of a dysfunctional economy may have a tough time explaining why they want to cut off extended benefits when the economy is so bad.
Harry Reid went all-in on the bad-economy emergency message in his opening remarks, saying that the US has never suffered this kind of long-term unemployment as we have now — a message that somehow gets forgotten when slight incremental gains in job creation get hailed as evidence of the Great Economic Recovery. Maybe someone at the NRSC is checking for sound bites today.
Will Reid get his fifth vote? I’d guess yes — it’s easier to explain a vote for another short-term extension than to explain one against it. That still leaves the House, though, where the pay-go rule will get taken more seriously, and the bill will get returned with offsets.
Update: Reid picked up enough votes for cloture — at least for the first round:
Senate votes to advance extension of unemployment benefits, 60 to 37, with 6 GOP supporters – @mpoindc
— Breaking Politics (@breakingpol) January 7, 2014
Club for Growth-backed Rob Portman ended up casting an aye:
Six Senate Republicans voted to end filibuster: Ayotte NH, Coats IN, Collins ME, Heller NV, Murkowski AK and Portman OH.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) January 7, 2014
That doesn’t mean it will get past a second cloture vote, Sam Stein warns:
weird that people assume UI will now pass the Senate. Still have to clear another cloture motion and Collins will likely demand a pay for
— Sam Stein (@samstein) January 7, 2014
I’d guess that the GOP would rather keep the focus on ObamaCare in 2014 rather than fuel the White House narrative of “income inequality” for the midterm elections, but the House will want something significant in return. We’ll see.