WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans and Democrats squabbled in public while negotiating in private on Monday on stalled legislation to resurrect unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.
While the bill's overall prospects remained unclear, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said it was possible a test vote scheduled for early evening would be postponed to allow more time for compromise talks.
Otherwise, there appeared little prospect that supporters of the legislation would gain the 60 votes needed to advance the measure.
Compounding the uncertainty, Republicans have proposed using the legislation to restore full cost of living benefits to military retirees under the age of 62. Lawmakers voted to curtail the increases late last year, and now face enormous pressure from veterans groups to reverse themselves.
Republicans "have been very effective at creating gridlock ... at preventing the Senate from doing its job," Reid said on the Senate floor.
He also said that Republicans "are so obsessed with taking pot shots at the Affordable Care Act and staging political stunt votes that they are willing to derail a bill that would help 1.4 million out-of-work Americans." That was a reference to a GOP proposal to offset the unemployment bill's cost by delaying a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.
A few moments later, the Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, blamed Democrats for the hold-up that has blocked action on the legislation to date.
Until the weekend, he said, Reid "only seemed to want to extend this program — without really paying for it, without doing much of anything to help create private sector job creation and without creating opportunities for targeted training" for the unemployed.
The legislation would restore a program of federal benefits for the unemployed who have exhausted their state-provided support, generally 26 weeks. An earlier program expired on Dec. 28, cutting off about 1.3 million victims of the recession who had been receiving an average $256 weekly.
Reid met during the day with Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada and Susan Collins of Maine, two of the six Republicans who helped push the legislation over an initial hurdle last week.
An agreement among the three would still leave Reid and fellow Democrats short of the 60 votes the bill needs to advance over its next hurdle.
Aides to two other GOP lawmakers who sided with Democrats last week — Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — said their offices had not heard from Reid since the weekend began.
Under the expired program, the long-term jobless were entitled to a maximum of 47 additional weeks of benefits, depending on the unemployment level in their states.
Under a revised bill Reid advanced late last week, the total would fall to a maximum of 31 weeks.
After initially rebuffing Republican calls to pay for the program, Democrats proposed offsetting the cost in part by extending previously approved cuts to Medicare providers by one year, through 2024.
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