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Bickering Intensifies As Republicans Filibuster Unemployment Benefits

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The disagreements are about substance and procedure. Republicans insist the benefits be paid for and won't play ball unless their side can offer amendments. Reid wants to control the amendments in order to protect his vulnerable Democratic members from taking painful votes ahead of the November congressional elections, when the Senate majority is up for grabs. One such amendment, pushed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), would pay for an extension of jobless benefits by delaying Obamacare's individual mandate for a year.

Reid has eased his position a bit in recent days, proposing to let each party offer five relevant amendments at a 60-vote threshold while setting final passage of the bill at 51 votes. McConnell called that offer "ridiculous" and his GOP colleagues backed him, declaring it a double standard.

Democrats have enough votes to pass an 11-month jobless benefits -- paid for mostly by extending cuts to Medicare providers for one year, from 2023 to 2024 -- if they can break a GOP filibuster. But Republicans won't let the bill move forward unless they get what they perceive as a fairer deal on amendments.

In the meantime, the two parties continue to provoke one another.

Before the vote Tuesday, eight relatively centrist Republican senators -- the sort of members Democrats need to break a filibuster -- unveiled their own proposal to extend jobless benefits for three months with a tweaked version of Reid's Medicare provider pay-for, while also repealing the military pension cuts in the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Reid rejected it, and so they forced a vote to "table" his procedural vote to move forward, which Democrats scuttled.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said the effort to renew unemployment benefits "does not look very good right now."

Procedural wars aside, many conservatives want to end the emergency jobless program, which first passed in 2008 and insures people looking for work for up to 99 weeks. Influential conservative lobbying groups like Heritage Action are pushing to avoid reviving the program, which expired on Dec. 28.

Even if the Senate somehow finds a way to resurrect the jobless benefits, it still needs to pass the House, which Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has suggested is uninterested in extending the program.