Updated 7:31 p.m. | Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicted Senate passage of a bipartisan unemployment insurance benefits extension this week, and urged action by the Republican-run House.
“I’m confident we will pass this legislation here in the Senate this week here and hopefully the Republicans in the House will have the soft hearts and strong minds to pass it over there,” Reid said on the Senate floor Monday. “It's in their hands.”
“This is a matter of significant importance for millions of Americans,” Reid noted.
On Monday evening Reid set up a vote for Wednesday on advancing bill in hopes of finishing work on the proposal by week's end. He also filled the amendment tree in an effort to keep any amendments from being offered to the bipartisan proposal, which was negotiated over months by five Democrats and five Republicans.
Action on the bill in the House is doubtful at best, given that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said he had concerns over implementation of the bill as voiced in a recent letter by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies.
Supporters of the bill cite a subsequent letter from Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez that gave assurances that all the issues raised by NASWA were surmountable.
Consideration of the unemployment insurance measure comes after the Senate clears a judicial nomination and a bill that would prevent a 24 percent cut to doctors beginning Tuesday, otherwise known as the “doc fix.”
Ten Republicans voted to advance the bill Thursday, and Reid lashed out at the remaining Republicans for their lack of support.
“Here in the Senate last Thursday only 10 out of 45 Republicans voted to help Democrats break the three-month filibuster,” Reid said. “In fact, the GOP Senators from the state with the third-highest population of eligible long-term unemployed — Texas — both voted to block an extension of benefits. It’s as if they simply don’t care that some of their own constituents are teetering on the verge of indigence.”
But Republicans argue that Democrats are more interested in using the issue for political gain than actually seeking a solution.
Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, argued on the Senate floor Monday that if Democrats were interested in seeking a solution they would allow amendments to be offered to the package.
“Unfortunately, the only conclusion that I can draw is that if the majority leader is not interested in having a honest and open debate about how do we solve the problem then something else must be driving his agenda,” Cornyn said. “I think we should get back to the day when collectively we were more concerned about solving problems than trying to beat on an issue and gain political advantage. But that seems to be the road we are headed on based on the majority leader's decision not to allow any votes on amendments.”
He said that among the amendments Republicans want to offer is a proposal from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., authorizing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which backers argue would create jobs.
Cornyn also made the case that extending unemployment benefits is the wrong strategy and that Congress should focus on passing legislation that creates jobs.
“The best thing we could do is to get out of the way. Let the economy grow again by making the environment more conducive to the people who invest, take risks and start business or grow small businesses,” Cornyn said.
He also said that extending long-term unemployment benefits runs the risk of giving people less incentive to look for work.
“People react to incentives,” Cornyn said. “And when the government continues to pay unemployment benefits for people who are out of work, human nature is such that people are dis-incentivized to go back to work, and look for work, on occasion.”
He also called for retraining workers instead.
“At a time where the American people are desperate for more jobs and more work, the majority leader is steadfastly determined to pass legislation which would dis-incentivize people from going back and looking for work and would in fact discourage work and discourage job creation,” Cornyn said.
Follow our extensive coverage of the unemployment insurance extension proposals:
Unemployment Extension: How Did Your Senator Vote?
Unemployment Extension Vote Not Worrying House Republicans
Boehner Still Cool to Senate Unemployment Extension Bill
Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner
Doctors Win, Jobless Lose: The GOP Confronts New Perception Problem