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Senate Fails To Advance Unemployment Bill, Again

For a second time, the Senate has failed to advance a bill that would restore unemployment benefits for an estimated 1.7 million Americans, who have been out of work for the long term.

The bill is essentially dead, because Senate Democrats could not cobble up the 60 votes needed to end debate on the measure. Without enough Republican support, the vote tally was 55-to-42.

The New York Times reports:

"Republicans and Democrats, many from the nation's most economically depressed states, had been trying to reach a solution that would allow people who have exhausted their unemployment insurance to continue receiving benefits as long as the government offset the $6 billion cost.

"Ultimately, how to pay for the program proved too big a hurdle for senators to overcome.

"'We've given them everything they wanted. Paid for,' said Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, flashing his irritation at Republicans who blocked the bill.

"He said Democrats would keep pushing to extend the benefits, which expired at the end of last year, leaving more than 1.3 million Americans cut off. That number has since grown to more than 1.7 million."

Politico reportsthat Democrats tried to pass a second measure where the costs were offset by "changes to retirement programs." That measure failed 58-to-40. In truth, it failed by one vote, because Reid changed his vote in the end to be able to bring up the measure again.

Politico adds:

"'There's one Republican vote standing between 1.7 million Americans and the lifeline they need to make ends meet,' Reid lamented after the unsuccessful result.

"GOP Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Dan Coats of Indiana voted previously to break a filibuster and open up debate on the bill, but voted against cutting off debate on the paid-for three-month extension. Coats explained in a statement that he voted no because Reid rejected Republican ideas 'to improve and pay for this legislation.'

"A Portman aide said the senator 'was disappointed that the Senate Democrats didn't come to the table to negotiate with him to find a solution and backed off of their own scaled-down version of his amendment to prevent double dipping' of both unemployment and disability benefits, a proposal that was included in a previous version of the bill that collapsed in January."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.