Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked proposals to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, the latest in a series of Democratic attempts to advance the issue and a setback for President Obama.
Democrats, who have tried repeatedly to advance the bill since late last year, vowed to try again.
"I'm beginning to believe there is nothing that will get Republicans to 'yes,' " said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
A vote to temporarily extend benefits for three months, retroactive to late December, fell one vote shy of the 60 needed to clear a key procedural vote. Four Republicans voted for the legislation, while all 55 members of the Democratic caucus supported it.
The finally tally was 58-40 after Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., switched his yes vote to a no in a parliamentary procedure that allows him to bring up the bill again.
Immediately after, a bill that called for extending long-term benefits for the rest of the year failed 55-43. The measure would have fully paid for itself by extending sequestration cuts for another year, a move expected to save about $25 billion. Republicans opposed the measure after demanding, among other things, an open amendment process.
About 1.4 million fewer Americans are receiving unemployment benefits after a 5-year-old emergency federal program expired Dec. 28. The program provided up to 47 extra weeks of unemployment aid paid for by the federal government after the jobless had exhausted their state benefits.
A White House statement called the vote "disappointing" and blamed Senate Republicans for denying suffering Americans a "vital lifeline to support their families as they actively search each and every day for a job."
But Republicans said the emergency unemployment compensation program, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2008, was never meant to be a permanent program. And they blamed the Obama administration for failing to do more to put jobless Americans back to work.
"We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Senate Republicans last month blocked an earlier version of the three-month long bill. But the updated version, unlike the previous one, would fully offset its $6.4 billion cost by through "pension smoothing," a bookkeeping technique that allows companies to use historical data in determining pension contributions.
The measure was sponsored by Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., whose states have among the highest percentages of unemployed in the nation.
"We will keep negotiating with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reach a compromise that will secure these benefits for those who need them," Heller said.