- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Senate Democrats on Wednesday finally broke a GOP-led filibuster that for months had held up a new round of federal benefits for the nation’s jobless, leaving Republican leaders steaming as they lost their chance to offer amendments they say would create jobs and reform the welfare system.

The Senate voted 61-38 to shut off debate, signaling that Democrats have won enough Republican support to renew benefits for the more than 2 million people who have lost the insurance since Dec. 28. If passed, the five-month retroactive extension would provide benefits for the long-term unemployed through June 1.

Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, used a parliamentary maneuver to block all amendments, leaving Republican leaders few chances to try to change the bill before a final vote, which could come later this week.

The unemployment extension includes a few changes to the system, but nearly six years after the economic collapse and the beginning of the jobless crisis, Republicans said Congress should focus more on job-creation and encouraging the unemployed to look for work.

“What we’re talking about is actually solving the problem. The problem is unemployment, long-term unemployment,” said Sen. John Hoeven, North Dakota Republican. “You don’t solve that with continued government payments, that’s still a patch. You solve it by getting people back to work.”

This was the Senate’s fourth attempt this year to renew long-term unemployment benefits, but it’s unlikely Speaker John A. Boehner will take up the bill in the House. He, like GOP leaders in the Senate, has insisted any unemployment bill be coupled with job-creation measures, and he said Democrats have failed to meet that goal.

Senate Republicans submitted nearly 70 amendments on issues ranging from limiting environmental regulations and approving the Keystone XL pipeline to determining the effect on jobs from environmental regulations before they are adopted.

Other amendments would have overhauled the unemployment program itself, including a proposal to prevent people from receiving disability and unemployment at the same time and eliminating federal payments for office furniture in states’ unemployment offices.

But Mr. Reid said the Republican amendments were a distraction that didn’t deserve floor time.

“They’re tone-deaf, they’ve got to go to some other issue, but they can’t. More than two dozen amendments on this bill alone deal with Obamacare, repealing it in different ways,” the Nevada Democrat, said.

Mr. Reid’s hand was strengthened by the six Republicans who joined with Democrats to overcome the filibuster.

Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican, said that while he agrees that his party should have the chance to offer amendments, it’s more important to speed the bill along.

“The important thing,” Mr. Heller said on the Senate floor, is “that we’re moving forward. These are real American families trying to get back to work, who want to make ends meet and provide for their families.”

Republicans tried to break Mr. Reid’s stranglehold on amendments with a procedural vote Wednesday afternoon, but were came up short.

“The Senate didn’t used to operate this way,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican. “I’ve been here a long time, and I have never seen it worse than it is right now.”

Mr. Hatch tried to introduce two amendments on Wednesday — one to repeal a tax on medical devices that was included in Obamacare, and one to permanently repeal the health care law’s employer mandate. Democrats objected to his requests.

Another amendment offered by Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, would have let small businesses hire veterans who already have military health insurance without those employees counting toward Obamacare’s employer mandate. Republicans argue that the president’s health care law, which requires a company to provide health insurance if it has more than 50 employees, discourages small businesses from growing. The House version of the bill passed 406-1 last month, signaling broad bipartisan support, Mr. Blunt said.

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