WASHINGTON – A Senate measure to extend federal unemployment benefits (search) failed by two votes Thursday despite the election year support of 12 Republicans from states hit hard by layoffs.
Democrats tried to attach the amendment to a gun liability bill (search), but it failed 58-39 in the GOP-controlled Senate. The margin was two votes shy of the 60 needed to overcome a procedural objection.
The measure would have extended the emergency benefits program for six months, providing 13 weeks of extra unemployment benefits to people who exhaust their state benefits - usually after 26 weeks.
The unemployment rate dropped to 5.8 percent last month from a high of 6.4 percent last summer, but the economy still is not producing many new jobs. In fact, more than 2,400 U.S. employers reported laying off 50 or more workers in January, according to the Labor Department (search). It was the third-highest level since the government started tracking mass layoffs a decade ago.
Democrats are seizing on the troubled job market to boost their election prospects in November. Some Republicans think that they might be vulnerable.
Those concerns led 39 Republicans to break rank last month to support a benefits extension in the House.
"This vote sends a clear message to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that we cannot keep ignoring the needs of Americans displaced by this faltering economy," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
Republicans said the unemployment rate was consistently dropping and is much lower than in previous recessions. It hit 7.7 percent in 1992 and 10.8 percent in 1982.
"I think we have to determine when's enough," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla. "And I happen to think that we've crossed that line."
Nickles said jobless workers have more incentive to find a job when the extra unemployment benefits stop. "The more you pay people not to work, the less inclined they are to work," he said.
Republicans voting in favor of the extension were: Sens. Christopher Bond of Missouri, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Susan Collins of Maine, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, James Talent of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio.
Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia was the only Democrat to oppose the amendment.