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Senate Likely to Leave Town Without Extending COBRA, Doc-Fix, Unemployment Benefits

Behind Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), the Republicans this morning have continued to block a $9.2 billion proposal to extend COBRA health benefits, delay a 21 percent cut in Medicare doctor payments, and extend the filing deadline for unemployment benefits (not to be confused with the creation of additional UI benefits).

Because Coburn has prevented efforts to adopt the measure by unanimous consent, Democratic leaders last night filed for cloture on the bill — setting in motion the series of votes that would allow Senate lawmakers to pass the bill despite Coburn’s objections. Trouble is, it’s Friday before a two-week congressional vacation, and a good many lawmakers have already left town. Indeed, the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this morning that just 11 Republicans are available to vote.

The flight of living, breathing senators means that the cloture votes likely won’t happen before Congress returns to Washington 18 days from now, the Reid spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, COBRA benefits expire April 1; a 21-percent cut in Medicare doctor payments is scheduled to take effect that same day; and the filing deadline for UI benefits arrives April 5.

Senate lawmakers will tweak the bill to make the extensions retroactive, Reid’s office said.

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