Cooler heads prevailing on jobless benefits

WASHINGTON — The day after a Senate clash over extending federal jobless payments, cooler heads prevailed on Friday.

Sen. Harry Reid reopened discussions with Republicans — including Dean Heller of Nevada and Susan Collins of Maine — who had been negotiating a bill to restore benefits to the long-term unemployed, his office said.

And after declaring flatly on Thursday he would not allow Republican amendments to a new Democratic bill, the Senate majority leader from Nevada now is open to debate on a certain number of them.

“Senator Reid has continued speaking with his Republican colleagues since yesterday afternoon and informed them that he is absolutely willing for the Senate to consider a reasonable number of relevant amendments from Republicans,” Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson said in an email.

It was not clear how many might be allowed or how their relevance would be determined.

Reid “hopes Republicans will get serious about passing this emergency legislation and stop trying to distract from the issue at hand with more tired attacks on Obamacare and other unrelated issues,” Jentleson said.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing is keeping faith with those who are struggling to make ends meet, and they expect us to rise above partisan squabbling,” Jentleson said.

The Senate recessed Thursday evening for the weekend with emotions running high after Reid unveiled a new bill to extend benefits for 1.3 million job seekers after an emergency funding program expired on Dec. 28.

The bill would continue federal payments until mid-November, while scaling back the maximum number of weeks eligible workers could collect from 47 to 31.

Coupled with 26 weeks of state-funded benefits, a person looking for a job would be allowed to collect unemployment for a combined maximum of 56 weeks, down from 73 in the program that expired.

Reid’s move triggered a floor fight. Republican moderates who had been negotiating on the issue said they were taken by surprise. GOP senators became further infuriated when Reid used his procedural powers to block amendments.

GOP senators already unhappy with Reid’s management of the Senate said it was the latest example of dictatorial rule by the Nevadan. Reid countered that Republicans were more interested in proposing “gotcha” amendments to undermine President Barack Obama.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.


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