WASHINGTON — The Senate failed Tuesday to move forward a Democratic plan to restore emergency jobless benefits that expired Dec. 28 for 1.3 million Americans.
A dispute over how to cover the cost of the benefits and how long they should continue — for three months or almost a year — stalled the measure since last week. With no deal in sight, today’s 55-45 vote may scuttle action on the bill. Sixty votes were needed for it to advance.
Shortly before the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered Republicans a chance to propose amendments.
“I am disappointed that we couldn’t work something out,” Reid said.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Reid’s offer was “utterly absurd” and “fundamentally unfair” because it required 60 votes for Republican proposals to prevail. Final passage of the bill, though, would require only 51 votes.
The prospects for extending the unemployment insurance do “not look very good right now,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said before the vote. Collins said she’s still hopeful for an agreement.
The expanded program started in 2008, when the U.S. jobless rate was 5.6 percent, and at one point provided as many as 99 weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed. At the end of 2013 the maximum was 73 weeks, including 26 weeks of state- funded benefits. The national jobless rate in November was 7 percent.
Democrats had proposed a three-month extension of the jobless benefits, costing $6.4 billion, as emergency aid without offsetting the cost.
Six Republicans joined Democrats to keep the bill alive in a procedural vote Jan. 7. All insisted on adding language to pay for the expanded benefits with budgetary reductions elsewhere.
Democrats, who control 55 seats in the 100-member chamber, needed the support of at least five Republicans to advance the proposal.
Reid said last week he would be open to covering the cost of the unemployment benefits measure only if the extension was for almost a year instead of three months.
“I know that everyone has worked very hard to work through this process, to try to thread the needle,” Reid said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven said Tuesday that he and other Republicans proposed to Reid a plan to extend the jobless benefits for three months with the cost fully covered.
“The disagreement is Republicans want to be able to vote on amendments,” which Reid wouldn’t allow, Hoeven said at a Bloomberg Government breakfast. Hoeven said he hoped the Republicans’ “good-faith offer” would move the negotiations forward.
Talks imploded Jan. 9 when Reid proposed renewing the benefits through mid-November and covering the cost in part by adding a year to automatic federal spending cuts. Republicans called that a budget gimmick and complained that they weren’t being given a chance to offer amendments.
As part of their focus on income inequality, Democrats in the coming weeks will seek to raise the federal minimum wage and increase spending on infrastructure projects to create jobs.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said his chamber will consider extended jobless benefits only if the cost is covered and if the measure includes job-creation provisions.
The emergency benefits have been renewed 11 times since President George W. Bush put them in place. All extended benefits are covered by federal dollars, while initial jobless insurance comes from federal, state and employer funds.