Updated: June 24, 7:53 p.m.
Senate Democrats failed late Thursday to break a Republican filibuster of the tax-cut and unemployment-insurance extenders package, leaving its fate uncertain as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moved on to a jobs bill.
The motion to take up the bill, which required 60 votes for adoption, failed 57-41. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) joined all Republicans present in opposing the measure. Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did not vote.
Democrats were furious, saying they have bent over backward to satisfy Republicans; the GOP was unapologetic, refusing to vote for the bill because it is not fully offset.
“We’re going to move to another jobs bill; we’re going to move tonight or tomorrow to a small-business jobs bill,” Reid told reporters following the vote. “We will see if [the Republicans] let us do that.”
A short time later, Reid filed for cloture to take up the small-business bill, setting up a Monday vote.
When asked about his plans for the extenders package, Reid said those questions should be directed to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the Republicans. A Democratic source said the majority is trying to figure out a way to move the legislation after eight weeks of debate and unsuccessful negotiations.
Shortly after the vote, McConnell offered a unanimous consent agreement to temporarily extend unemployment, health care and benefits in a measure that would be fully offset. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) objected.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said Democrats had acceded to GOP demands to reduce the cost of the bill from $210 billion to $110 billion and agreed to offset all but $33 billion in emergency unemployment insurance. “We have come a long, long way to accommodate Senators on the other side of the aisle,” he said.
Democratic leaders charged the GOP with exhibiting callousness toward the unemployed, who depend on unemployment insurance and COBRA health insurance benefits. And, they said failure to clear the extenders package would result in massive layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police. But Republicans said they simply could not support more deficit spending given the size of the federal deficit and precarious state of the economy.
“Given our nation’s astronomical federal deficit and the continued troubled economy, the last thing Congress should be doing is passing bills that increase taxes on small businesses and further stifle the economy,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who often votes with the Democrats on these issues, said in a prepared statement.
“In addition, despite the many measures I supported that would have paid for the federal expenditures in this bill, the final bill would add billions of dollars to the deficit,” she added. “This continued track of spending far beyond our means threatens to extend our economic stagnation and puts our nation on a dangerous financial path.”
Nelson voted against the cloture motion for similar reasons.
“Deficit spending is becoming an acceptable way back here for some folks. I’m not one of them,” the Nebraska Democrat said.