Republican senators gave a small victory to Democrats this week in voting not to filibuster a three-month extension to unemployment benefits, but GOP lawmakers are now trying to turn the debate into a choice between the jobless and illegal immigrants.
A group of Republicans, including three who helped defeat the filibuster, said Wednesday that they want to pay for the enhanced unemployment benefits and for restoring full retirement benefits to military retirees by prohibiting illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit.
The debate has taken on broader implications, however, with the GOP saying they must be allowed to offer amendments if there is to be progress on major issues this year, and with Democrats insisting they get a chance to decide which amendments the Republicans can offer.
“This obstructionism by the Democrat majority is against the traditions of this body, and it needs to end,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday. “If Democrats truly want to get anything done this year, they are going to have to learn how to work with us.”
Most Senate Republicans now say they will accept a three-month extension of unemployment benefits, but only if they are allowed to find a “pay-for” — Capitol Hill-speak for spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere that would offset the cost.
Democrats have signaled that they are reluctant to pay for the $6.5 billion cost of extending the unemployment benefits, and rejected the GOP tax-break plan.
Late Wednesday, Democratic leaders were pondering whether to allow the GOP to offer amendments. They postponed an expected vote that would have officially brought the unemployment bill to the Senate floor.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Wednesday that if Republicans have an idea to offset the extension, they should share it. But earlier in the week, he said he would only consider amendments that he considered “something serious” — and he rejected the proposal to end the tax break for illegal immigrants.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, is sponsoring that proposal along with a handful of other Republicans. Her plan would require those claiming the Additional Child Tax Credit to provide a Social Security number — which would exclude many illegal immigrants, who aren’t eligible for a Social Security number and instead pay income taxes using an individual taxpayer identification number.
Republicans say ending the tax break will save $20 billion over 10 years, more than enough to cover both unemployment benefits and military retiree pay.
“There’s only one reason that the majority leader would not let this amendment go to the floor, and that’s that he wants a problem rather than a solution,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican.
But Democrats said taking away the tax credit from illegal immigrant parents would hurt their children, who in some cases are U.S. citizens.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said Democrats are willing to listen to the ideas Republicans have to pay for the extension, but have yet to hear an idea they can support.
“They’ve suggested in some ways taking a child tax credit away from poor children,” she told reporters on Wednesday. “We don’t think that that’s a good pay-for, but we’re open to hear what they have to say, although we don’t think it should be paid for.”
Two Republican senators who voted yes in Tuesday’s procedural vote — Mrs. Ayotte and Sen. Rob Portman — said they would withdraw their support if the unemployment package isn’t paid for. That would leave Democrats short of the 60-votes needed to move forward.
“Let’s put this in context. Is this a serious effort to extend unemployment benefits if we don’t find a pay-for and we don’t get into reforms? Because how is this bill going to go through the House if we don’t do those things?” Mr. Portman, Ohio Republican, said.
Indeed, House Speaker John A. Boehner said Wednesday he won’t bring the jobless benefits bill to the floor of his chamber unless Democrats add other savings and some other pro-jobs programs into the plan.