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February 14, 2016

Republicans Block Unemployment Extension, Democrats Plan to Try Again (Updated)

Updated 3:29 p.m. | Senate Democratic leaders plan to again try to extend unemployment insurance after Republicans blocked their latest attempt Thursday.

Democratic leaders came up a single vote short of overcoming a GOP filibuster. The final tally was 58-40, short of the 60-vote threshold needed, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his voted to preserve his right to reconsider the measure.

Four Republicans — Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — joined the Democrats.

The vote would have advanced a three-month $6.4 billion extension to expired unemployment benefits, paid for by “pension smoothing,” which would have the effect of increasing taxable income.

Republicans charge that this is the latest in an election-year effort to score political points.

“If Republicans were in charge, unemployment would have been acted on months ago and it would have included reforms that actually enable people to get back on their feet,” said a senior Senate Republican aide. “Unfortunately everyone is stuck while Democrats play games.”

At a news conference before the vote, Reid said the outcome did not look good and pledged that Democrats would continue to push for an extension.

“We are not going to give up on the unemployed,” the Nevada Democrat said.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said he believes Republicans think “unemployed people are lazy” and that is why they have voted against extending jobless benefits.

The Senate last month voted on a previous Democratic plan to extend the jobless assistance for about 11 months, which would be offset by adding another year to automatic spending cuts, known as the sequester, through fiscal 2024.

The GOP rejected the Democratic proposal as unfair because Reid would only let Republicans offer five amendments with a 60-vote threshold for passage, but demanded only a simple majority threshold for final passage of the extension.

Reid said that Democrats have sought to compromise with the Republicans on the issue, but that it never seems to be enough.

He said Democrats initially did not want to offset the extension because they believe it’s emergency spending. Then Republicans wanted to offer amendments, which Democrats allowed.

“They can’t take yes for an answer,” Reid said.

Reid also noted that he’d heard one Republican senator say they couldn’t vote for the Democratic proposal because it would not restore cuts to the cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military pensions that was included in the budget agreement passed in December.

He said those who have that concern should know the Senate will likely vote Monday evening on a bill from Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., to repeal the cuts without an offset. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said that the rationale behind not offsetting the bill “is very simple: our veterans have paid a big price already.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the Senate vote “disappointing.”

“We cannot allow one vote to stand in the way of supporting these Americans as they struggle to find work. Both sides of the aisle have worked together to prevent this kind of hardship in the past, and neglecting to do so now is unacceptable – especially given the high long-term unemployment rate,” he said.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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