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The Senate’s effort to restore long-term unemployment insurance benefits for 1.3 million Americans sputtered Tuesday amid bitter procedural disagreements.
Negotiators from both sides of the aisle had been working to get a deal to extend the jobless aid that expired at the end of last year. But after a promising vote to advance the legislation last week and optimism late Monday, a potential compromise unraveled when the two sides failed to agree on a process to consider changes to the legislation, including proposals for how (or whether) to pay for it.
A vote to move the bill forward – requiring 60 votes -- failed 55-45, and a separate bipartisan proposal failed 52-48. Negotiators say they are still working to find middle ground, although the Senate faces other urgent fiscal business before a scheduled recess next week.
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered Republicans votes on five amendments but directed that those proposals would need 60 votes to be adopted. His proposal also would have eliminated a final 60-vote threshold before final passage of the bill.
Republicans called that plan unacceptable, saying that Reid deliberately engineered the rules to ensure no GOP ideas would pass. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that Reid’s proposal was “fundamentally unfair.”
Reid countered by accusing the GOP of moving the goalposts after he acquiesced to their demand for votes on Republican amendments.
“It sounds as though Republicans want to – for lack of a better way to describe this – have their cake and eat it too,” he said on the Senate floor.
Democrats say that the squabble was a setback, but not necessarily a death knell for the proposal.
"We are not going to stop,” said lead Democratic negotiator Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. “We are going to keep working."