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Senate Leaders Say House Scuttled Deal on Unemployment Benefits

Updated: 10:23 p.m.

Senate leaders accused House Democrats Thursday night of scuttling a Senate proposal to fully pay for a one-week extension to unemployment insurance following hours of tense negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in turn blamed Senate Democrats for the stalemate.

The Senate is scheduled to resume its work at 9:30 a.m. Friday.

Reid and McConnell were expected to continue talks to pass some sort of an extension before the chamber officially adjourns for its recess Wednesday. But Democratic aides acknowledged that it was increasingly unlikely a settlement would be reached before the insurance program expires April 5.

McConnell and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) threw a significant monkey wrench into Reid’s plans to pass a one-month extension without offsets when they filed cloture on a fully paid-for GOP alternative following passage of the reconciliation bill earlier in the day Thursday.

Although Reid was ultimately able to table that bill, divisions within his own conference and a largely united GOP demanding the extension be paid for forced him into protracted talks on the Senate floor.

At one point Reid used a rare “live quorum” call to summon all 100 Senators to the Senate floor in the hopes of finding a deal, but after almost an hour on the floor, Reid and much of the Finance Committee retreated into the Cloakroom to continue their talks.

Reid, McConnell and Coburn ultimately agreed to move a one-week extension that would include full offsets. That would have covered the program until after the recess and potentially given the House and Senate time to finish work on a full one-year extension bill that has stalled.

But Democratic and Republican Senate aides said that House Democrats ultimately balked at that deal, forcing Reid to end the talks for the night Thursday — although Reid did pass an unusual adjournment resolution that will allow the Senate to continue working on a deal through next Wednesday.

“Senate Republicans and Democrats came to an agreement on a short-term fully paid-for extension of unemployment benefits to prevent potential expiration of the end of the month,” said Don Stewart, a McConnell spokesman. “Unfortunately, the bipartisan agreement that was reached in the Senate was rejected by the House.”

Reid filed cloture on the short-term extension Thursday night and announced the chamber would return to work at 9:30 a.m. Friday to continue debate. While the Senate was slated to adjourn Friday for a two-week break, Reid also filed an adjournment resolution that could technically keep the chamber in session until Wednesday.

However, GOP aides predicted that no votes could occur since Members would be leaving town Friday, and they said that any Senate deal would have to be passed by unanimous consent. But that would also require the House to remain in session long enough to pass a Senate deal, and the House adjourned for the recess on Thursday night.

Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Pelosi, rejected the notion that House Democrats killed the unemployment extension, arguing the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of Republicans.

“Just like Sen. [Jim] Bunning [R-Ky.] before him, Senator Coburn has decided to stand in the way of Americans receiving needed benefits,” Elshami said Thursday night. “The House passed unanimously a 30-day extension and any claim that there was an agreement reached in the Senate on a shorter bill is nothing more than spin by Republicans. Instead of grandstanding, Senator Coburn should stop obstructing Senate approval of a House bill passed unanimously by Democrats and Republicans alike.”

Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday night approved short-term extensions of small business loans as well as funding for satellite television viewing and the Federal Aviation Administration.

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