Jobless Benefits Fall One Vote Short After GOP Filibuster

Republican senators on Thursday blocked a three-month revival of long-term unemployment compensation for 1.7 million Americans out of work.

Democrats fell just one vote short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster. Four Republicans voted with Democrats — Sen. Dean Heller (NV), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed his vote at the last minute to preserve the option of bringing up the bill in the future. The final vote was 58-40.

It’s the latest move in a six-week game of cat and mouse where Democrats try to find a way to revive the emergency jobless benefits and Republicans say the proposal that Democrats come up with is not good enough.

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.”

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