Harry Reid is now set to allow votes on a “reasonable number” of amendments to legislation extending unemployment benefits that GOP Senators are pushing for, his office tells me.
Republicans had been furious with Reid for blocking their amendments, and he got pummeled today by tough pieces in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal over his opposition to letting them move forward.
What made these stories tough for Reid was that two amendments came from GOP Senators who supported cloture on the initial three-month unemployment extension — Kelly Ayotte and Rob Portman. As the Times piece put it today, despite their support for the initial UI legislation, their amendments were blocked by the “brutish” Senate Majority Leader.
Instead, Democrats rolled out their own new legislation — an 11 month extension paid for by continuing mandatory sequester cuts much later — but Republicans balked, citing the refusal to allow votes on amendments as the reason why.
But Reid’s office tells me he’s re-opened discussions with Republicans who are negotiating with Dems over UI — Senators like Ayotte, Portman, and Dean Heller — and told them he’s now willing to allow votes on a certain number of Republican amendments.
Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson emails:
“Senator Reid has continued speaking with his Republican colleagues since yesterday afternoon and informed them that he is absolutely willing for the Senate to consider a reasonable number of relevant amendments from Republicans. He hopes Republicans will get serious about passing this emergency legislation and stop trying to distract from the issue at hand with more tired attacks on Obamacare and other unrelated issues. At the end of the day, the most important thing is keeping faith with those who are struggling to make ends meet, and they expect us to rise above partisan squabbling.”
What this means is that Republicans can get votes on some amendments, as long as they don’t push for votes on the ones that seem truly off point, such as ones designed to undermine Obamacare (Mitch McConnell, for one, has proposed a one-year mandate delay). The question of what constitute reasonable amendments and what don’t will obviously be a point of disagreement, but presumably one that could be resolved in discussions between the two sides.
It’s unclear how many amendments Reid will allow votes on, but this could bring about the beginnings of a thaw as we head into a weekend during which both sides are expected to continue negotiating over how to extend benefits for the 1.3 million Americans who lost them already and the untold number of others who are set to lose them soon if Congress does nothing.
From the Dem perspective, their 11 month extension bill already contains concessions to Republicans. After all, Republicans say they support extending benefits if there is a pay for; this bill offers them one. (Yes, the “pay-for” for is gimmicky, but not that much more gimmicky than the pay-for on the sequester replacement bill that passed both houses easily.) What’s more, the Dem bill also shortens the duration of UI benefits, to bring down the price tag, in keeping with Republican demands for fiscal responsibility.
Even the non-Obamacare-oriented Republican amendments, such as those offered by Portman and Ayotte — which Dems oppose on substantive grounds — are all but certain to fail. Now it remains to be seen whether Republicans will demand votes on still more amendments — including ones that would undermine Obamacare — and point to Dem opposition to allowing them as their reason for opposing the UI extension they claim they support. Stay tuned.