WASHINGTON — Rebuffing a plea from President Barack Obama, 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 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.
“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. Benefits for the long-term unemployed lapsed at the end of May because of the congressional stalemate.
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,” press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
It was the third time in two weeks that Democrats failed to circumvent unified GOP opposition, despite making a series of 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.
The Labor Department estimates that more than 1.2 million long-term unemployed will have lost their benefits by the end of this week.