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Payroll Tax Deal Taking Shape

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin isn’t particularly happy with some details of the conference committee’s deal to extend the payroll tax holiday. In particular, Durbin expressed hesitation over a provision that would reduce the number of weeks unemployed workers in many states could collect benefits.

Top Democrats did discuss it during their weekly chairmen's lunch, and many aides anticipate at least some backlash during an afternoon meeting of the full caucus today. However, Democrats predicted that eventually most in their party would fall in line to pass the bill.

Even Senate leaders conceded the agreement, particularly the compromises made on jobless benefits, is far from ideal.

"No," Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said when asked whether the agreement is good. "We started with a position that says we won't pay for [unemployment insurance] we're not going to prevail on that. Secondly, we want to protect those, particularly in high unemployment states, so there's some strong feelings among some of our Members."

The agreement would reduce the number of weeks unemployed workers could receive benefits in most states, but the number of weeks varies depending on the jurisdiction.

Still, Durbin acknowledged that it is much easier for Senate leaders to get their Members in line than it is for House Republicans.

"What [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.)] said to me this morning was, 'I think we have an agreement; I know what's in it'. And now the question is, 'What can [Speaker] John Boehner pass?' And as soon as he puts something on the floor and passes it, I'm ready to sit down with our people and say, 'Well this is it,'" Durbin said. Because the House GOP nearly scuttled December's short-term deal on the payroll tax cut extension that was negotiated between Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Durbin said the Senate would not likely again try to initiate legislation.

"I think McConnell's gun-shy. He got burned," Durbin said.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of the leadership team who represents an economically depressed state, expressed concern about the proposed unemployment insurance reform, though she wanted to reserve judgment until she reviewed the final agreement.

"Obviously, I'm concerned with any reduction in weeks when we have so many people looking for work for so long, but I have to look at all the details," Stabenow said.

Senate Democrats also are concerned that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) could block any unanimous consent agreement that would be needed to vote on the package by Friday, the Senate Democratic aide said.

Paul has delayed consideration of the Senate transportation bill and the confirmation of a judge in an effort to get a vote on his proposal to cut off aid to Egypt until Americans being held there are released. Paul wants to use the roughly $1.3 billion a year the United States provides to Egypt in aid as incentive for the Egyptian authorities to release the Americans.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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