The Senate left town Thursday without a deal for renewing federal employment benefits after bipartisan talks over an offset reached an acrimonious impasse. Prospects for forging an agreement that could pass the upper chamber with bipartisan support seesawed throughout the day, with Democratic leaders expressing optimism that a deal was close. But hopes for a breakthrough were dashed when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered up a mostly Democratic-driven plan that would cover the $18 billion cost of extending the federal benefits through November.
Yesterday, the scuttlebutt from Capitol Hill brought new hope for America's jobless: senators were nearing a bipartisan deal to extend federal unemployment benefits -- not just for three months, but for nearly the rest of the calendar year. Democrats and Republicans would get roughly want they want, and both struggling families and the economy would benefit.
But as lawmakers wrapped up their work for the day, it all fell apart.
Here's the deal: Democrats said they want to extend federal unemployment benefits. Republicans said they wouldn't allow this unless Democrats agreed to pay for the bill through spending cuts elsewhere -- even though both sides have extended jobless aid before, many times, without offsetting cuts.
The Democratic majority offered what they saw a face-saving measure: they'd agree to extend sequestration spending cuts for another year into the future. At first blush, that may seem awful -- the sequester is designed to be a stupid policy that hurts the country on purpose -- but what Dems were effectively proposing was spending to help the unemployed in 2013 in exchange for spending cuts in 2024. Senators figured they could solve a short-term problem now, and find some alternate solution to sequestration long before the damage is done a decade from now.
And a fair number of Republicans were prepared to go along with this -- Dems were, after all, offering them a face-saving way to vote for a popular bill that will help the economy in election year -- and by mid-day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was confident enough to tell reporters that a compromise would likely take shape within "a few hours."
That didn't happen. Senate Republicans said they also wanted to be able to bring up some amendments to the bill before it's voted on, and though they didn't specify what amendments they had in mind, Democratic leaders assumed they were politically motivated measures intended to serve as 2014 campaign fodder. Reid balked, saying there would be no amendments, and no amendments would even be necessary since it was a straightforward, bipartisan deal.
The GOP minority said no amendments would mean no agreement, and blamed Reid for "unleashing a bitterness" through his approach.
And so 1.3 million Americans will suffer some more, with millions more set to join them.