The bill would have extended the benefits for three months at a cost of $6.4 billion, paid for with a gimmicky offset -- which has had bipartisan support in the past -- known as pension smoothing. The bill includes an idea pushed by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to prohibit people with a gross income in the preceding year of $1 million or more from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Coburn voted to filibuster the bill anyway.
The reality is a large number of Republicans want the program to end but don't want to say so because it's popular. First enacted in 2008, amid economic free-fall, it provides insurance to Americans who are looking for work for up to 99 weeks. It expired on Dec. 28.
A follow-up vote Thursday to extend the unemployment benefits for three months, without a pay-for, also failed 55-43.
"We are one Republican vote away from restoring unemployment insurance for 1.7 million Americans," Reid said after the votes. "Let's get this done. Tell me what is needed to get this done."