Senate Republicans on Thursday once again blocked legislation to reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted their aid.
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday once again blocked legislation to reinstate long-term unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted their aid.
With the Senate apparently paralyzed by partisan gridlock, the fate of the aid, as well as tax breaks for businesses and $16 billion in aid for cash-strapped states, remains unclear. Dozens of states, including Washington, are hoping for federal aid to help balance their budgets.
Republican lawmakers — joined by Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska — maintained a unified front to sustain a filibuster of the $110 billion bill. The vote was 57-41, three short of the 60 needed to cut off debate and bring the bill to a final vote.
Democrats said they would give no further ground and put the onus on Republicans to make concessions.
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“If there were ever evidence that this is the party of no, this is it,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who added that several governors would be coming to Washington next week to make the case for the bill to help states, businesses and those who have been out of work more than six months.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., disputed Reid’s characterization. “The only thing Republicans have opposed in this debate are job-killing taxes and adding to the national debt,” he said.
The unemployment extension would add about $30 billion to the national debt. Democrats say all the provisions in the bill are offset by spending cuts and tax increases except the jobless benefits, which Congress traditionally has approved as an emergency without looking for a way to pay for them.
Some senior Democrats said they are likely to try again to attract GOP support for the overall measure. But after four months of talks, senior Democrats said they are likely to delay further action until after the July 4 recess.
“People are in the mood of letting the dust settle before finding the next step,” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
Emergency jobless benefits, which provide up to 99 weeks of income support, expired June 2. Since then, checks have been cut off for more than 1.2 million people, according to estimates by the Labor Department. That number is expected to rise to more than 2 million people by the time Congress returns from its weeklong break. Unless Congress acts, the program would phase out entirely by the end of October.
Governors who had been counting on federal aid in the legislation will have to consider a fresh round of budget cuts, tax increases and layoffs of state workers.
Washington is among the states that had been relying on the federal aid in the measure, which includes money to help states pay their Medicaid costs.
The state expected to get $338 million in the latest version of the bill, which also included tax credits for local biodiesel companies and continuation of a sales-tax deduction for state residents. Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday said that if Congress doesn’t approve the Medicaid match before its August recess, she may have to either call a special session or make across-the-board cuts.
In a statement, the White House vowed to keep pushing for the bill. “The president has been clear: Americans should not fall victim to Republican obstruction at a time of great economic challenge for our nation’s families,” spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
It was the third time in two weeks that Democrats failed to circumvent unified GOP opposition, despite making changes to accommodate complaints about deficit spending.
The latest bill was a pared-back version of the $140 billion measure approved by the House. Last week, Democrats agreed to slash unemployment benefits by $25 billion to cut costs. In the latest version, Democrats scaled back funding for aid to states for Medicaid.
Democrats did succeed in moving one spending bill Thursday, with the House voting unanimously to delay for five months a 21 percent cut in what Medicare pays doctors. That ends, for now, a tortured congressional debate over how to protect seniors’ access to medical care without driving the federal government deeper into debt.
Under the legislation, Medicare, which covers more than 45 million mostly elderly Americans, will boost its physician payment rate by 2.2 percent.
That bill, whose approximately $6.5 billion price tag is offset by changes in hospital reimbursements and in the way businesses pay into their pension funds, was approved unanimously in the Senate last week and is expected to be quickly signed by the president.
Seattle Times Olympia bureau reporter Andrew Garber contributed to this report.
Material from The Associated Press and The Washington Post is included in this report.