WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats’ plan to extend long-term jobless benefits has hit political turbulence after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pushed a reworked version but blocked Republicans from offering any changes.
The dispute threatened to stall the legislation, just days after it narrowly cleared a Senate hurdle.
“Indiana voters didn’t send me here to be told just to sit down and forget it,” said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., complaining Republicans had been sidelined.
The original version of the bill was a three-month, $6 billion extension that was not paid for. Republicans objected, and Reid came back with a 10-month extension that was paid for.
But he then moved to block Republicans from offering amendments, going so far as to accuse Republicans of “continually denigrating our economy, our president and frankly, I believe, our country.”
Coats, who had earlier in the week helped advance the bill, expressed anger he hadn’t been consulted about changes in the legislation. By Thursday evening, most of the Republicans who had been on board with the plan earlier in the week signaled they’d be pulling their support.
The now-expired law provided a maximum 47 weeks of payments after an unemployed worker had used up state-funded benefits generally capped at 26 weeks.
The re-worked legislation reduces the 47 weeks to a maximum of 31 weeks, based on a sliding scale that dates to the expired program. Reducing the number of weeks would save about $8 billion, a Senate source told Fox News.
The first tier of additional benefits would be six weeks, and be generally available to all who have used up their state’s eligibility.
An additional six weeks would be available in states where unemployment is 6 percent or higher; an additional nine weeks in states with a joblessness rate of 7 percent or higher; and 10 or more weeks in states where unemployment is 9 percent or more.
The cost, which Republicans had issue with, would be offset in part by extending a previously-approved reduction in Medicare payments to providers. It would also be paid for by extending the sequester cuts to mandatory spending by another year, which would save around $17 billion.
Additional funding would come from limiting or eliminating the ability of people on Social Security disability from also receiving unemployment benefits, which the Senate source told Fox would save another $1 billion.
Senators from the two states — Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada — were central to the talks, and the White House was also being kept informed.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters that administration officials have indicated they would be satisfied with a deal that won the backing of Senate Democrats.
Another Senate vote is tentatively scheduled for next week.
Any legislation that clears the Senate would also have to pass the House, where Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he is only willing to consider an extension of the expired program that is fully paid for.
Calls to Boehner’s office Thursday by FoxNews.com were not immediately returned.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.;