On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced an amendment to push back one week the eligibility deadline for extended unemployment benefits. After Feb. 28, nobody will be eligible for extended benefits made available by the stimulus bill -- Reid wanted the deadline moved to March 7 as a stopgap measure.
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) objected, suggesting instead that the Senate take up the bipartisan jobs proposal unveiled earlier in the day by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), which includes extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA subsidies.
"Now, I know my friend and colleague is going to offer some scaled-down version of that shortly, but if we offered instead the Grassley-Baucus amendment, which was filed earlier today, that would include the unemployment extension," said McConnell.
Reid did not accept McConnell's suggestion -- he had already rejected the Grassley-Baucus jobs proposal.
"Let me just add that unemployment insurance does not expire until February the 28th," said McConnell. "We'll be back on the 22nd and hopefully we'll have sufficient time to work on an acceptable extension."
To advocates of extending benefits, the Senate has already wasted too much time. Rich Hobbie, director of the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, told HuffPost that next week, state agencies will have to notify recipients of unemployment benefits that they will not be eligible for the next "tier" of federally-funded benefits after Feb. 28 (even though it's entirely likely that Congress will indeed pass an extension by then).
"They're grossly underestimating the degree of disruption that is already going to happen," said Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project.
Advocates like Conti don't even want a one-week extension. NELP raised a ruckus in December when the extended benefits provisions were first set to expire, pointing out that a million people would fall off the unemployment rolls within a month. Congress passed a three-month extension, creating the current frenzy to extend the benefits provisions again. A one-week extension would lead to more brinkmanship in Congress and chaos in unemployment agencies -- not to mention anxiety for benefits recipients.
"Continued one-week extensions don't get the job done," said Conti.
"That really creates more uncertainty," said Hobbie. "One could imagine Congress getting into a situation where that was OK to do, where they would be extending emergency unemployment compensation for two weeks, then another two weeks."
Reid's office memorialized the exchange in a YouTube video. Check it out: