The Senate by a single vote rejected an election-year effort Tuesday to extend federal unemployment benefits.
Democrats tried to attach the benefit to a corporate tax bill. On a 59-40 vote in the GOP-controlled Senate, they fell just shy of the 60 votes needed to overcome objections that extending the benefits violated last year’s budget agreement.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was the only senator who missed the vote. He was campaigning in Kentucky.
The amendment would have offered emergency federal unemployment benefits for six months, temporarily giving 13 weeks of extra assistance to people who exhaust their state benefits — typically 26 weeks.
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.6 percent last month as employers added nearly 300,000 new jobs. The Labor Department has reported that payrolls have risen for eight months in a row, with almost 900,000 new jobs created so far this year, most within the last two months.
Republicans seized on April’s employment report as evidence that more federal unemployment benefits are not needed.
“The employment picture in this country is looking up, by any measure,” said Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. “I believe it’s time to end the program.”
Democrats said the extended benefits are needed because the economic recovery still hasn’t replaced 1.5 million jobs lost since President Bush took office.
“Keep our social compact and extend these needed unemployment benefits,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.
The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said it would have cost $5.8 billion to offer the temporary benefits, which would have been drawn from $13.3 billion in the unemployment insurance trust fund. Republicans said it would cost $9 billion.
Dems, GOP spin outcome
Campaigning in Florida, Kerry said he didn’t come back to Washington for the vote because he understood that Senate Republicans would not let the measure pass.
“We were told that no matter what would happen they would change a vote in the Senate and they were not going to let it happen,” Kerry said in an interview in Jacksonville with television stations WIXX and WTLV. “They don’t want it to happen. It is very clear that even if they pass it in the Senate, they are not going to pass it in the House.”
Campaign spokesman David Wade had said earlier in the day that Kerry “has fought again and again to extend unemployment benefits for workers left behind in the Bush economy. The reason we haven’t succeeded is because George Bush opposes extending unemployment insurance and so do his allies in the Republican House of Representatives and 39 Republican senators.”
Steve Schmidt, a Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman, responded: “Last month, John Kerry was pushing for the extension of unemployment benefits. Today he had the chance to actually vote on that question, but was too busy playing politics when he would have made the difference in the Senate.”