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Unemployment Bill Falls in Senate Despite GOP Assist

Updated: June 30, 9:52 p.m.

Even with the votes of Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Senate Democrats were unable to overcome a GOP blockade to a five-month, unpaid-for extension of unemployment benefits Wednesday evening.

But after dealing another setback to Democratic efforts to pass the unemployment bill, Senate Republicans allowed the majority to subsequently pass a renewal of the tax credit for first-time homebuyers.

In a vote intended to break a GOP-led filibuster of the unemployment bill, Democrats fell one vote short of the 60 needed. Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson was the lone Democrat to vote with Republicans. The vote was 58-38, because Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted “no” to preserve his right to recall the vote at a later date.

The Monday death of 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) robbed Democrats of a key vote, but they could likely win the vote once West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) names Byrd’s replacement, aides speculated.

Democrats had worked to secure the vote of centrist GOP Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), but Brown had earlier in the day introduced his own unemployment measure, which was offset with spending reductions. Although he has supported previous extensions that were not offset, he opposed Wednesday’s bill.

Republicans, along with Nelson, have insisted that any further extensions of unemployment benefits be paid for, while Democrats have argued the program amounts to emergency spending that should not be offset.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the vote that Republicans were willing to pass an extension of unemployment benefits immediately and pay for the program by rescinding unobligated economic stimulus funds.

“The only reason the unemployment extension hasn’t passed is because Democrats simply refuse to pass a bill that doesn’t add to the debt,” McConnell said on the floor. “That’s the only difference between what they’ve offered and what we’ve offered.”

But Reid disputed that, saying jobless benefits are emergency spending that have never required offsets.

“We as a Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have always extended unemployment benefits because it’s an emergency,” Reid said on the floor. “President Reagan did it for almost three years. … It’s been going on, on a bipartisan basis, when times are tough in America. This is only an excuse that the Republicans have. We only needed one more Republican to get this done, and I so appreciate the two good Senators from Maine for recognizing that these people who are unemployed deserve this.”

The bill included an extension of the homebuyers tax credit, but once it failed, Democrats were granted unanimous consent to pass a stand-alone bill continuing the homebuyers program.

The Senate also passed a stand-alone extension of an expired flood insurance program.

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