WASHINGTON — What was shaping up to be a humdrum day on Capitol Hill turned into a firestorm as Majority Leader Harry Reid proposed his own plan to extend unemployment benefits and effectively blocked Republicans from having further say in the matter.
After several days of debate over how to pass a three-month extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, Reid side-stepped negotiations with Republicans and offered a plan of his own to extend benefits through mid-November. In doing so he used a procedural tactic known as "filling the tree" to block Republicans from proposing any further amendments.
When Reid said at a Thursday afternoon press conference he was "cautiously optimistic," that a long-term deal would soon be announced, what he came up with isn't what Republicans had in mind.
"Sen. Reid announced today that he will obstruct ALL [sic] Republican amendments," Don Stewart, a spokesman for Mitch McConnell, told BuzzFeed in an email. "It's a real challenge to find a bipartisan accomplishment when one person shuts out the entire side of the aisle."
"This is crassly political," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. "They want to have something to talk about on the Sunday morning programs."
The deal will extend unemployment benefits through Nov. 16 and offset the cost in part by extending sequester cuts to 2024.
It also aims to stop "double-dipping" by reducing the amount of Social Security Disability Insurance people get who also received unemployment benefits in the same month. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) had introduced a similar measure that aimed to go even further than Reid's. Portman said the CBO estimated his plan would save $5.4 billion, while Reid said his would save $1 billion. Reid argued his version was fairer to the disabled.
On the Senate floor Thursday, McConnell asked Reid whether he would allow a vote on any Republican amendment. Ultimately, Reid said no.
To allow for debate on the bill in the first place, six Republicans crossed party lines to vote with Democrats. The Republicans who did so say they did it with the expectation that at least one of their amendments would be accepted to offset the estimated $6.4 billion cost of the three-month extension. Instead, they say Reid shut them out.
"The reason I voted for the motion to proceed was I thought we ought to have some input into this," Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said.
Coats added that had Reid had allowed votes on some Republican amendments, the deal might have been made Thursday.
On the Senate floor, Reid said that Democrats had waited for Republicans to make a sufficient proposal to pay for the extension since Monday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told BuzzFeed on Wednesday she has had discussions with the White House about how they wanted to handle extending the benefits.
"We're all on the same page in passing unemployment insurance," she said Wednesday. "We don't think it should be paid for."
A spokesman for Pelosi was unable to immediately respond when BuzzFeed asked for a response to Reid's latest proposal.