WASHINGTON – The Senate again failed to approve new extensions of unemployment benefits this afternoon, reaching an impasse on an issue that is preventing nearly 1 million laid off workers from getting unemployment checks.
Democrats several times have scaled back their proposal, but have yet to attract enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster that has been joined onto by Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
“We can’t pass it unless we get some Republicans,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters this afternoon. “It’s up to them.”
The proposal, which came three votes shy of the 60 needed to break the filibuster, would have extended insurance for long-term unemployed workers until Nov. 30. Those benefits had expired three weeks ago, and an estimated 30,000 laid-off workers in Massachusetts have already lost benefits.
The bill also would have supplied a $16 billion boost in Medicaid funding for states, which would mean about $500 million for Massachusetts, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That figure is lower than an earlier proposal, which would have supplied a $24 billion boost, or $760 million for Massachusetts.
It also includes a variety of tax changes, and money for summer jobs programs.
The House had passed the extension legislation shortly before Memorial Day, but Senate Republicans have prevented the proposal from coming to a vote in the Senate.
“I have great compassion for those programs, and have kept everybody informed as to where everything stands so they can plan,” Brown said in an interview this morning. “The issue is it’s going to raise taxes, it’s going to increase the deficit and there’s no way to pay for it yet. But they’re working towards it. They’re doing better. We’ll just see.”
In an effort to attract more Republicans, the proposal has been scaled back. The latest proposal would add about $33 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office. By comparison, the initial proposal would have added more than $130 billion to the deficit.
"It is crucial that Senator Brown understands that extending the [Medicaid funding] will literally save lives of his constituents," Leo V. Sarkissian, executive director of The Arc of Massachusetts, said in a statement. "These may be numbers on a page in Washington, but in this state they drive decisions that can make lives better or worse, depending on how Senator Brown chooses to vote."
Labor groups have also targeted Brown. The AFL-CIO recently sent out an e-mail that read, "Tell Sen. Scott Brown to stop playing politics with people's lives."
"This is particularly outrageous given the challenges we face in trying to come out of this global recession,” John Walsh, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, said in a statement this afternoon. “Sen. Brown: Start joining others that represent us and start trying to help, not hurt the interests of people in our state."
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.