Senate bogs down on tax extenders and unemployment benefits

The bill would have extended tax credits and unemployment benefits, but it failed on a procedural vote. Many Republicans say they support the aims of the legislation, but they want to see more effort to cut spending.

The Senate on Thursday tried and failed to advance a package of tax and benefit extensions. Pictured are Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Senate Democratic Conference secretary Patty Murray (D) of Washington.

After eight weeks of trying to pass a package of tax extenders and jobless benefits, Senate majority leader Harry Reid pulled the bill from the floor and moved on.

“This process has been abused,” Senator Reid said in a press briefing after Thursday’s vote. “We have done everything that we could.”

The measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to prevail on a procedural vote – 57 to 41, with all Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voting in opposition.

“You'll hear a lot of excuses from our friends on the other side, but the bottom line is that the minority just said no to a bill that has real and substantial effects on our businesses, our families, and our economy,” said Reid.

Republicans say that all the majority needs to do to win their votes is pay for the bill.

“Senate Republicans have offered several times to extend tax credits, unemployment benefits, and the flood-insurance program without adding to the debt, but these offers have been repeatedly rejected by the Democratic majority,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference.

“I voted against this bill today because it would add another $30 billion to the mounting debt that we’re going to have to hand over to our grandchildren,” he added.

Moving the annual package of tax extenders used to be a bipartisan exercise, remarkable only for what the majority might try to add to legislation all but certain to pass. No one wanted to return home, especially in an election year, to tell unemployed workers that the checks would no longer be coming.

But this year, no one blinked. Emergency jobless benefits, most recently extended to 99 weeks, expired on June 2. By the time Congress returns from its July 4 recess, some 2 million people will have lost benefits, according to the Department of Labor.

“This is dysfunction taken to a new level,” says Norman Ornstein, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a frequent witness at hearings on how Congress governs itself. “What we’re getting here is a level of party discipline that has nothing to do with the scope of problem or the gravity of it.”

In fact, many Republicans say they support the aims of the legislation, but in an era of ever deepening deficits, they want to see more effort to cut spending.

“If we are serious about creating jobs, we absolutely could identify a pathway to extend the expiring tax provisions in this legislation which are important to America's job generators, without simultaneously and inexplicably raising taxes on our small businesses – the very entities we look to in order to lead us out of this recession – in the name of increased spending and a more expansive tax-extenders package,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, in a floor speech before casting a vote against the bill on Thursday. Senator Snowe is one of a handful of Republicans who routinely work for bipartisan solutions with Democrats.

But even with all 40 Republicans voting together, Democrats still need to win over one of their own. Senator Nelson of Nebraska says that he, too, is holding out to see that the bill is paid for.

“You need to pay for new spending,” he said. "The more you get into deficits and adding to the debt, the more you lose your ability to make a recovery.”

Reid says he expects state governors on Capitol Hill on Monday to turn up the heat on Republicans to vote for the tax-extenders bill, which includes aid to cash-strapped states.


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