This week, the Senate will work mostly on passing the reconciliation sidecar. Then there is a scheduled two-week break. But on March 31, the one-month extension of unemployment benefits and the COBRA subsidy runs out. This was the measure that Jim Bunning stubbornly delayed past the expiration date last month, only to give up a few days later.
The Senate actually passed a bill that would provide an extension of these benefits and a host of other expired tax measures until the end of the year. However, that bill must get teamed with the House, who passed a similar extenders bill last year. And there are a lot of issues with the $154 billion dollar measure. For one, Blue Dogs may try to slash the cost of the bill because it doesn’t comply with paygo rules (the Senate passed it as an emergency measure). Second, the revenue raisers in the bill – denying paper companies an alternative fuel tax credit for fuel they’ve been using for decades, and changing foreign tax shelter rules – are also in the reconciliation sidecar, so would be unavailable for this legislation. It’s unclear whether they will set up a conference committee to deal with these problems, or ping-pong the bill back and forth.
But because of these issues, and that looming deadline, the Senate will try to pass another one-month patch to buy itself time to finish the more comprehensive measure. Harry Reid actually asked for unanimous consent on such a patch on Friday, but Jon Kyl objected, citing Mitch McConnell’s absence from Washington. The Senate will likely try to pass this tomorrow before moving to the reconciliation sidecar.
Which brings us back to Jim Bunning. Will he play his little game again? Will he deny a short-term unemployment extension for millions of families for petty reasons? Will he have no problem giving the Republicans the same short-term PR nightmare they had last month?