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Senate Looks to Leave Thursday Night

Senate Democrats are eyeing a late Thursday evening exit for the Memorial Day recess, as they face the very real possibility that neither the House nor the Senate will be able to pass a major tax extenders bill that includes a six-month extension of jobless benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had said the Senate would work into the weekend if needed to complete action on the extenders legislation, given the current extension of unemployment benefits expires next week.

Without a bill from the House, Democrats said they would take a run at passing a temporary extension Thursday night after passing a supplemental war spending bill.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Senate leaders will shortly face an attendance problem as Senators jet home for the weeklong recess to campaign or meet with constituents.

“If we haven’t received the extenders from the House or if we receive them and it’s late, it’s problematic. It’s really difficult,” Durbin said.

He added that the absence of Senators would make it difficult for leaders to muster the 60 votes needed to break an expected GOP-led filibuster of the extenders measure.

“It’s also unrealistic to think that we could file cloture today and have a successful cloture vote on Saturday,” Durbin said of the procedural motion needed to beat back a filibuster. Regardless of attendance factors, it was not clear that even all 59 members of the Democratic Conference would vote for the bill, but that issue was largely moot, considering House leaders were finding themselves well short of the 218 they needed for passage in that chamber.

House leaders trimmed about $50 billion from the nearly $200 billion bill, but Democrats and Republicans in both chambers objected to the fact that most of the measure would add to an already ballooning federal deficit.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the House is at least expected to send the Senate a temporary extension of unemployment insurance, health care benefits and possibly of a Medicare physicians’ payment “fix” contained in the package.

“We will attempt to get a temporary extension if they can’t get the [larger extenders] bill to us,” the Michigan Democrat said.

But Stabenow acknowledged that the temporary extension may not pass the Senate, given GOP Senators in recent months have demanded that unemployment benefits be offset with spending cuts elsewhere.

“It’s up to the Republicans. At this point, the only way this can get done is unanimous consent at this point. We don’t have time with the supplemental up,” Stabenow said.

Senators said they were preparing to finish up their work Thursday evening.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said he was “80 percent” sure that the Senate would be done by late Thursday after clearing the supplemental and that nothing would happen on the extenders bill until after the recess.

He said the House’s inability to pass the measure quickly was to blame.

“We’re in the eighth inning now. There’s not a lot of time,” he said. “If it were the fifth inning, we might be in better shape. But we’re not.”

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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