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Latest Senate Attempt to Revive Jobless Benefits Falters

U.S. Senate Democratic leaders said they would keep working to strike a compromise on reviving expanded jobless benefits, even as the chamber failed to advance the latest plan amid a partisan dispute over amendments.

On a vote of 58-40, with 60 required, the Senate again didn’t have the votes to move forward a Democratic proposal to extend the benefits for three months. The cost of the plan, at the demand of Republicans, was covered with budget reductions elsewhere.

Four Republicans -- Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- voted for the latest plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was the only Democrat to vote “no,” which he did to preserve his ability to bring up the measure again.

“We are not going to give up,” Reid of Nevada told reporters before the vote. Reid said on the Senate floor that just one more Republican vote was needed to advance the legislation.

Republicans have been balking at what they characterize as Reid’s unwillingness to allow them to offer amendments to the measure. They say Reid and his Democratic colleagues are deliberately avoiding compromise so they can blame Republicans for blocking the jobless benefits.

‘Political Game’

“We know it’s a political game,” said Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

Democrats insist that behind the scenes they’ve offered Republicans a chance to vote on a reasonable number of amendments and say they’ve met Republicans’ insistence to offset the cost of reviving the benefits.

The latest Democratic plan would make changes to pension rules, known as “pension smoothing,” to cover the cost of the expanded benefits.

Such a maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to pension funds, meaning their short-term taxable income would increase because they could claim fewer deductions.

The measure also includes a proposal from Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, restricting millionaires from collecting unemployment benefits.

President Barack Obama called on Congress in his State of the Union address to restore emergency jobless benefits that expired Dec. 28 for 1.6 million Americans. Democrats, who control 55 Senate seats in the 100-member chamber, have been seeking five Republican votes needed to advance a bill.

Talks imploded last month after Reid rejected a Republican proposal for a paid-for three-month extension. Heller, the lead Republican negotiator, said at the time that Reid “wanted this to die for political reasons.”

On Jan. 14, the Senate failed by a 55-45 vote, with 60 needed, to advance a Democratic proposal to extend the jobless benefits for three months without covering the cost.

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