WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans narrowly blocked the advance of legislation to restore benefits for the long-term unemployed Thursday for the second time in less than a month, and Democrats say they intend to call yet another vote on the issue.
"We're one Republican vote away from restoring unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
The senior senator from West Virginia, as well as the White House, called the outcome disappointing.
"This Congress failed the American people on Dec. 28, when it didn't pass an extension of unemployment insurance. It was heartbreaking to watch as nearly one million people who are out of work -- including nearly 7,000 in West Virginia -- were denied the critical relief needed to get back on their feet," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., in a news release. "Sadly, partisan politics once again derailed this effort today, and for that I'm extraordinarily disappointed."
The measure called for a three-month renewal of an expired program that provided up to 47 weeks of federal benefits when state-paid aid runs out, generally after 26 weeks. The cost was estimated at slightly more than $6 billion over a decade. It would have been offset by lowering pension obligations for some companies, a step that would have increased their taxable income.
The vote was 58-40, two shy of the 60 that backers of the measure needed to prevail. That understated the measure's true support, because Reid sided with opponents at the last minute in a maneuver that will permit him to have the issue reconsidered under the Senate's rules.
Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire sided with 52 Democrats and two independents on the vote.
The attempt to renew expired jobless benefits was the first legislation that majority Democrats placed before the Senate this year, and it represents the leading edge of their attempt to gain support among economically strapped voters at a time when polls show that voters are concerned about the gap between rich and poor.