Congress adjourns this week for the July Fourth recess without having passed a bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits to 1.3 million people who started losing them this month.
Democrats have been painting Republicans as unsympathetic to the long-term unemployed who will be unable to collect benefits, but Democratic leaders have rejected several offers by the GOP to vote for the bill if at least some of it is paid for.
"My concern is that the Democrats are more interested in having this issue to demagogue for political gamesmanship than they are in simply passing the benefits extension," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who offered a deal that was rejected by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Democratic leaders were quick to attack Republicans for opposing the benefits, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., calling their opposition "just cruel" and "contrary to what our country is about."
Republicans, meanwhile, stood firm in their argument that extending benefits should not add to the deficit.
Voinovich told Reid he would vote for extending benefits if at least half of the extension could be paid for with unused money from the $787 billion stimulus package.
"I came to the table with a fair compromise, and the ball is in their court," said Voinovich, whose state suffers from a 10.7 percent unemployment rate.
The House passed a sixth-month extension on Thursday, but the Senate was long gone by then, having shut down early so that the late Sen. Robert Byrd's body could lie in repose in the chamber. Any future action by the Senate will have to wait until lawmakers return on July 12.
On Wednesday, the Senate rejected a measure to extend benefits, with most Republicans and one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., opposed to the bill because it would add more than $33 billion to the nation's $1.3 trillion deficit. The Senate came up just one vote short of passage, with Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Maine Republicans, voting yes.
After the bill failed, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered a compromise that would extend benefits for two months and pay for it fully with unused stimulus funding. But Reid turned it down.
"The only reason the unemployment extension hasn't passed is because Democrats simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn't add to the debt," McConnell said. "That's it. That's the only difference between what they've offered and what we've offered."
McConnell pointed out that earlier this month, 57 Democrats voted for an amendment offered by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., that would also have used stimulus money to pay for some of the benefits. The amendment fell three votes short of the 60 needed for passage, but Reid was among the supporters.
Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., told The Washington Examiner on Thursday that unemployment benefits are considered emergency spending and do not fall under the same rules requiring them to be offset.
"We've never done it," Durbin said. "And it is counterintuitive that to stop a recession we have to take spending away from one area and put it into another. We need to put money into the economy."