This might not go over big with some, but there is a group of Senate Republicans who are meeting to plan how to pass a top Democratic priority.
Since December 28, 2013, Republicans have twice rejected a bill that would have extended aid to the long term unemployed, but Harry Reid has vowed to get the extension passed.
Senators Dan Coats of Indiana, Rob Portman of Ohio, Dean Heller of Nevada, and Susan Collins of Maine gathered last week to find a way to bring the issue up again when the full senate returns for work, and to decide on what policy changes could be acceptable to Democrats so that they can finally move the extension along.
Until that happens, and with mid-term elections coming up this November, they are reasonable enough to see that if turning its back on those, our fellow citizens, who may be at a disadvantage because of the present difficulties this can be used against the GOP, and they may not be able to take over the senate, and they could lose the House.
“We’re still working on the same thing, which is solving the problem,” Portman said in an interview Tuesday. “I continue to believe that we can solve this if Democrats want to".
It may become a contest between Tea Party hardliners and GOP moderates.
Voting down money for the government may sit well with those who just want to slash deficits and spending regardless the damage, but to centrists, looking unsympathetic to the long-term unemployed is a big risk.
Senators who represent districts hit hard by unemployment have to at least appear to be supportive of their constituents.
“The substance is there for an agreement,” Dan Coats said optimistically, but he does acknowledge that his constituents have questions about how long these benefits should be extended. “There’s a question mark in terms of: How much longer can we keep doing this? Or should we keep doing this? If we do extend it, they (his constituents) want to see reforms”.
The group began talking of a proposal to retroactively revive benefits for 90 days, paying for it by cracking down on people receiving both unemployment and disability benefits, and changing federal pension programs. This was just as the senate was going on its break.
Among the things they would like to have the Democrats agree to are amendments to reform the program, such as a ban on receiving benefits once a person received a “suitable” offer of work and job training.
Unfortunately, when similar ideas were brought up earlier, negotiations fell apart, and Republicans would be naïve if they feel the Democrats would just let them off the hook by accepting their ideas without discussion, especially as GOP obstruction could be lost in the euphoria of this one bipartisan agreement.
Anyone who has ever played in a band knows that regardless how good or bad the rest of a concert might have been, the audience always remembers the last song, and will forget the rest. The Democrats might not want all the previous obstruction so easily forgotten.
Portman and Kirk were swept into the senate on the 2010 Tea Party wave, and could suffer during the mid-term elections for being reasonable. But in their states respectively about a third of the Ohio’s unemployed have been out of work for more than half a year, and in Illinois the long-term unemployed make up 41 percent of the state’s jobless.
Their new stance goes against their previous votes opposing a three-month extension, and this could mean they will face the wrath of their Tea Party supporters. But this could be offset by the findings of a survey showing that 51% of respondents said they were less likely to support Portman’s reelection because of that earlier vote, with 40% saying the same about Kirk, a situation that could change if they appear to have a heart when it comes to the long term unemployed, and if they look like they are not in lock step with an intractable Tea Party.
Their idea is a good and reasonable one, but not everyone whose vote they would like are equally reasonable.