Jobless Benefits Extension Fails in Senate

Jobless Benefits Extension Fails in Senate
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A second attempt to restore benefits for the long-term unemployed failed in the Senate on Thursday -- just shy of clearing a key procedural hurdle.

The 58-40 cloture vote on the $6 billion measure to extend jobless aid (which lapsed at the end of December) for three months to roughly 1.7 million Americans delivered a blow to a key Obama administration agenda item, as the president pushed for an extension in his State of the Union address last month.

Majority Leader Harry Reid pledged to bring the measure back again, and switched his vote to “no” in a procedural motion to return to the issue, which Democrats see as integral to their 2014 midterm messaging in light of favorable public opinion on extending the benefits.

Even if the motion had succeeded, the bill still faced long odds in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have expressed virtually no appetite to take it up.

Still, Reid implored Republicans to provide one more vote to support cloture. Four Republicans -- Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine and Dean Heller of Nevada -- joined all Democrats in agreeing to proceed with the bill.

The measure’s price tag would have been covered by excluding millionaires from receiving the benefits and by a process called pension smoothing, which adjusts the rates companies pay into current pensions -- something Democrats said Republicans have agreed to in order to pay for other items in the past.

Opposition centered on how to pay for the extension and disputes about amendments -- fights that have intensified since the majority leader changed part of the filibuster rules last year.

“Rather than work with us to find common ground, the majority leader once again chose to reject our ideas and block action on amendments to improve and pay for this legislation,” said Republican Sen. Dan Coats, whose home state of Indiana has an unemployment rate above the national average. Coats proposed an amendment to bar the unemployed from receiving benefits if they turned down a job offer or chose not to apply for a job referred by the state employment agency.

The administration urged the Senate to return to the bill, citing the still high long-term unemployment rate. Press Secretary Jay Carney noted that President Obama met with CEOs at the White House last week to encourage hiring of those who have been out of work for an extended period.

“Republicans in Congress need to allow this bill to have an up-or-down vote and remove this needless drag on our economy and American families,” Carney said. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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