Republicans resoundingly slammed a second offer by Senate Democrats on the payroll tax cut conference committee, dismissing the proposal as not serious and further calling into question the prospects that a deal can be reached by the end of the month.
Senate Democrats late Wednesday night presented a one-page draft proposal on unemployment insurance benefits to their Republican counterparts on the payroll tax conference committee.
The offer would cap the length of time that unemployment benefits are paid out at 93 weeks for the remainder of the year — compared with 59 weeks in the House-passed bill and 79 weeks in President Barack Obama’s jobs bill.
Democrats rejected GOP-favored education and drug-testing requirements for jobless beneficiaries and omitted offsetting spending cuts for the estimated $160 billion extension of a payroll holiday, unemployment benefits and a fix to the Medicare doctors’ reimbursement rate.
Speaker John Boehner today wrote off the proposal, blaming Obama, who he says will not allow Senate Democrats to negotiate in good faith.
“Does the president want to accomplish anything this year?” the Ohio Republican asked. “Time is running short on the payroll issue. ... The president and Senate Democrats will not allow their conferees to support a reasonable bipartisan agreement on spending cuts.”
Conferee Rep. Tom Price agreed, calling the offer “disappointing” and “frustrating.” The Georgia Republican suggested that Obama does not want Democratic conferees to make progress.
“The president’s narrative is that Congress can’t get anything done, so if Congress gets anything done, it hurts his narrative for re-election,” Price said. “I hate to think that that’s what they’re doing, but, you know, if the president wanted the Senate Democrats to negotiate in good faith, then he’d have them do so. But they don’t appear to be doing so.”
The Senate offer also rejects a House GOP proposal to allow states to divert unemployment insurance funds through certain waivers. Instead, Democrats proposed a grant program to fund re-employment and other programs with unemployment insurance benefit dollars.
Rep. Kevin Brady, another Republican conferee, said he was told by Democrats that a much more substantive offer would be coming, especially because time is running short.
“We were led to believe that we would have the pay-for offer from the Senate in this because we are really down to the last practical week on this,” the Texas lawmaker said. “This isn’t a very good indication.”
Conferees had been told to leave their schedules open this morning in case of a conference committee meeting. But no such meeting took place. Instead, Democrats and Republicans huddled separately, and there is no indication if or when another full public meeting will occur.
Brady said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) will try to discuss the offer with their Democratic counterparts on the conference committee and that staff will work into the weekend to attempt to find consensus.