14/01/2014 01:25:00

Senate Delays Vote on Jobless-Benefits Extension

WASHINGTON--The Senate on Monday pushed off votes on extending benefits for the long-term unemployed as lawmakers worked to salvage a deal out of an acrimonious process.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Monday the Senate would continue negotiating until Tuesday, rather than hold a procedural vote Monday evening. The delay is intended to give lawmakers more time to see if they can reach a bipartisan agreement to restore the benefits, which expired on Dec. 28.

Mr. Reid rescheduled a vote to end debate on the bill for Tuesday afternoon.

A group of eight Republican lawmakers, six of whom had previously voted with Democrats to advance the issue, coalesced Monday around a proposal extending the benefits for three months. Mr. Reid said that he needed to confer with lawmakers before deciding whether he could embrace the GOP suggestions.

"As everyone knows, the president's not in favor of a three-month proposal and I'm not either, but that doesn't mean we can't work something out," Mr. Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. Democrats last week had pushed to extend the unemployment insurance until mid-November, but scale back the number of weeks people could receive additional benefits.

The law that expired in December provided federal aid to supplement the 26 weeks of unemployment benefits provided by most states, providing up to 47 weeks of additional payments. The proposal from Mr. Reid last week, maintained in the latest GOP proposal, would scale that back to a maximum of 31 weeks.

The new GOP proposal would also repeal a piece of the recent bipartisan budget deal that saves $6 billion in federal revenue by decreasing annual cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees still of working age, lawmakers said.

A sticking point in the talks has been how to pay for the extended benefits and the military retirees change. To offset the cost, Republicans offered a tweak to a Democratic proposal to postpone for one year the expiration of across-the-board spending cuts, known as the sequester, that are currently scheduled to expire in 2023.

Republicans would keep the sequester's current expiration date, but increase the size of its cuts to just under 8%, from 6.3% now, said Sen. Dean Heller (R., Nev.), one of the negotiators. The proposed cuts would apply only to mandatory spending programs and would exclude Medicare providers and defense spending, according to a Senate GOP aide.

To find some additional savings, Republicans also looked to a proposal offered by Mr. Reid that would eliminate a kind of "double dipping" by reducing Social Security disability benefits to people if they are also collecting unemployment benefits.

It wasn't immediately clear Monday night how favorably the proposal would be received by Democrats.

Sen. Jack Reed (D., R.I.), who has been working with Mr. Heller on the issue, emphasized Democrats had already moved toward Republicans by agreeing to offset the measure's cost. Many Democrats would prefer to pass the extension without trimming the budget elsewhere.

"We haven't yet come to a meeting of minds, but we're working on it," Mr. Reed said on the Senate floor.

GOP lawmakers said an important component of their proposal would allow both Republicans and Democrats to each offer five amendments related to the legislation that would receive roll-call votes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) delivered an unusually long speech on the Senate floor last week, protesting that Democrats have recently boxed Republicans out of the legislative process by not allowing enough votes on GOP amendments.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 13, 2014 20:25 ET (01:25 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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