Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that after Republicans once again defeated a bill to reauthorize several expired domestic aid programs, including extended unemployment benefits, Democrats are giving up on trying to break the GOP filibuster.
"We're going to move to the small business jobs bill," said Reid. "We can't pass it until we get some Republicans... It's up to them."
Reid and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), in an effort to mollify a handful of conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans, have spent the past several weeks trimming the bill to reduce its deficit impact. But after jettisoning several provisions to help the old, the poor and the jobless, reducing the bill's ten-year deficit impact down from $134 billion to just $33 billion, the bill is still sinking. Not a single Republican is willing to lend support and Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson is still holding out, leaving Democrats two votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a filibuster.
Extended unemployment benefits lapsed at the beginning of June. By Friday, more than 1.2 million people out of work for longer than six months will have found themselves ineligible for the next tier of extended benefits, which were originally provided by the stimulus bill to fight the recession. Other programs that lapsed include elevated federal aid for state Medicaid programs and a "Doc Fix" that prevents doctors from a 21-percent drop in reimbursement for seeing Medicare patients.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said she believes Republicans are trying to prevent the economy from improving in order to foster an anti-incumbent mood come November.
"Cynically, for them, It doesn't serve them in terms of the elections in the fall if things are beginning to turn around," she said. "If they can stop the recovery from occurring, If they can create as much pain as possible, the cynical view is people will be angry and either drop out and not vote at all or vote against those in the majority."
"Senate Republicans offered a responsible extenders bill," said a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), referring to the Republican alternative to the bill, which would have reduced the deficit by slashing federal spending. "Democrats rejected it because it did not add to the national debt. Republicans and Democrats agree on the unemployment extensions, but they simply disagree on the Democrats' insistence on adding tens of billions more to an already unsustainable $13 trillion national debt."
HuffPost asked Stabenow if the Democrats' promise that they will drop the "tax extenders" bill altogether might be a bluff to get Republicans to stop demanding cuts.
"Maybe they will come back next week," she said. "Bluff? That suggests a game, and I resent that. There are over a million people right now who have lost their unemployment benefits."
Last week, Democrats and Republicans agreed to reauthorize the Doc Fix provision as a standalone, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the House wouldn't consider Doc Fix without the rest of the bill (a fuller version of which the House passed at the end of May). On Thursday, Pelosi changed her tune and the House approved the solo Doc Fix.
"Leadership on both sides of the Hill need to go back to the drawing board and find a way to keep the unemployment extensions up and running," said Judy Conti, a lobbyist for the National Employment Law Project. "At no time since the enactment of the unemployment insurance program have we had unemployment over 7.5 percent without an extension being in place. To allow these programs to expire with an unemployment rate near 10 percent would be nothing short of immoral. Anyone who can live with that result is not fit to hold elected office."
Additional reporting by Ryan Grim.