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Senate Rejects Extension on Unemployment Benefits

The Senate by a single vote rejected an election-year effort Tuesday to extend federal unemployment benefits (search).

Democrats tried to attach the benefit to a corporate tax bill (search). 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.

Mass. Sen. John Kerry (search), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was the only senator who missed the vote. Kerry was campaigning Tuesday 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 (search) 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.

Democrats also tried in February to extend unemployment benefits. That effort, too, failed narrowly, although it had the support of 12 Republicans from states hit hard by layoffs.