WASHINGTON — The Senate was one vote short of allowing debate on the unemployment insurance extension bill Thursday afternoon, effectively killing the bill and leaving Democrats furious at their Republican counterparts.
The final vote – to end debate, and cut off a filibuster — stood at 58-4o after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote for procedural reasons. Sixty votes were needed. The Senate vote on cloture meant debate or vote on the bill itself could not move forward.
The $6.4 billion bill would have extended benefits of 1.7 million unemployed Americans for 90 days, retroactive to Dec. 28. It would have been paid for through pension easing, which allows employers to adjust pensions based on historic rates. The easing would have generated enough money in tax revenue to pay for the benefits.
Senior Senate Democrats seemed extremely pessimistic about the vote at a noon press conference, and repeatedly insisted that they’ve done all they could to appease Senate Republicans.
“We have, over the last several weeks, bent over backwards to bridge the partisan divide,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the sponsor of the bill. “We compromised on how to pay for it. We compromised on the offset that we would use, which is acceptable, I think, to both sides now. It’s been used before.”
Reid said that Democrats had given Republicans “everything they’ve wanted,” while Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the called the bargaining process for the bill “a perfect example” of bipartisanship.
“More than anything else, people want government to come together, end gridlock and get something done to create jobs and grow the middle class,” said Schumer. “Yes, they’re frustrated with government, but they’re frustrated we don’t do anything to help.”
However, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said after the vote that it was “disgraceful” that the Republicans weren’t granted more amendments to the bill.
“Is that a lot to ask in the United States Senate?” McCain said. “We think we represent a good portion of the American people, and we’re not even allowed to have an input. We’d be glad to negotiate with him on a number of amendments, but as Robert Byrd used to say, ‘Every senator should have the right to have an amendment if they want it.’”
Reed said after the vote that he would be willing to negotiate on the number of amendments.
Some Republican senators objected to extending unemployment benefits on principle. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized “crushing taxes and regulations from Washington that have killed growth and produced economic stagnation.”
“Instead of continually extending unemployment benefits, we should instead work together to bring back economic growth and jobs,” Cruz said in a statement. He also called on Congress to repeal Obamacare and build the Keystone pipeline to kick-start an economic recovery.
Throughout the day, Senate Democrats asserted they would keep fighting to extend unemployment benefits, but refused to tie the issue to the debt ceiling fight. Schumer said before the vote that the Democrats would not “take hostages,” and that the debt ceiling debate should not be complicated by combining it with the proposed unemployment benefits extension.
At a press conference after the vote, Reed echoed Schumer, and said the Democrats would bring up another unemployment bill before the next legislative break because the situation is so dire.
“We can’t wait,” said Reed.