By Karoun Demirjian
LAS VEGAS SUN
WASHINGTON — Unemployment benefits will lapse for a third week, after negotiations in the Senate over a bill to extend funding for benefits faltered.
As of Friday, there was no deal in sight — though Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller, at the center of the negotiations, had seemed optimistic that they could push an agreement through before week’s end.
The impasse is over how to offset the cost of an extension of emergency unemployment insurance — or about $6.5 billion for three months.
Many Republican senators who voted for a procedural motion on an extension Tuesday — narrowly giving it the margin it needed to avoid a filibuster threat — warned that they would not support the legislation without cost offsets.
As Democrats and Republicans continued to argue publicly about the merits of requiring “pay-for” provisions, negotiators including Reid and Heller met privately to try to strike a longer-term deal that would include a combination of pay-fors and spending cuts, including a new rule requiring jobless workers receiving both disability and unemployment insurance to choose only one source of assistance.
On Thursday afternoon, parties were fairly optimistic that they could seal the deal that day. But Republican leaders objected, citing concerns that they would not be able to present their own amendments proposing alternate pay-for scenarios for the Senate’s consideration.
“They say they didn’t vote for this because they didn’t get to offer unlimited amendments, even though there’s a proposal that wouldn’t run up the deficit one penny, all paid for?” Reid said Thursday night. “It’s hard for me to comprehend that.”
But by Friday, his position appeared to have softened.
“Sen. Reid has continued speaking with his Republican colleagues since (Thursday) and informed them that he is absolutely willing for the Senate to consider a reasonable number of relevant amendments from Republicans,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said Friday. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is keeping faith with those who are struggling to make ends meet.”
More than 17,000 Nevadans have stopped receiving benefits since Dec. 28, when new funding to cover the checks ran out. That number is expected to rise as the lapse in payments continues into next week.
The earliest the Senate could meet to vote on an unemployment bill is Monday, but no such vote is scheduled, and if additional amendments are part of the mix, the debate is likely to run long.
The House has yet to consider unemployment legislation despite the efforts of most Nevada representatives to urge Speaker John Boehner to take up the issue quickly.