Filibuster halts bill boosting jobless benefits, aid to states

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post / June 25, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats yesterday abandoned efforts to provide more assistance to state governments and extend emergency unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers, leaving in limbo President Obama’s push for more spending to bolster the economy.

The decision came after the Senate failed again to muster 60 votes to advance a package of tax cuts and emergency economic provisions. Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat, joined a united Republican caucus in voting to block the measure, citing concern that even the latest slimmed-down version would expand bloated budget deficits. The package fell short, 57-41.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, blamed Republican intransigence for killing the measure and dismissed talk of continuing negotiations, saying the only path forward would require Republican compromise.

Advocates for people with disabilities hold sit-in at Boston offices of Senator Scott Brown. B5

“We’ve tried and tried. This is our eighth week on this legislation,’’ Reid said, urging reporters to direct questions about the measure’s fate to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. “We are here. We’re willing to work.’’

McConnell, meanwhile, blamed Democrats for the impasse. “The principle they’re defending here is not some program,’’ he said. “The principle Democrats are defending is that they will not pass a bill unless it adds to the debt.’’

For Massachusetts, the vote could have widespread consequences. Emergency jobless benefits, which provide up to 99 weeks of support, expired June 2. About 30,000 laid-off workers in Massachusetts have already lost benefits; up to 100,000 would eventually be affected.

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.

Governor Deval Patrick and state legislative leaders had expected that money in their budget projections. Without the federal help, the Massachusetts House and Senate passed a stripped-down budget last night that cuts aid to communities.

The US Senate version also had funds for summer jobs programs, a program championed by Senator John F. Kerry.

“This is one of the worst moments I’ve seen in 25 years in the United States Senate,’’ the Massachusetts Democrat said after the vote.

Other senior Democrats said they are likely to try again to attract GOP support for the measure, which Obama has called critical to propping up the nation’s still-fragile economic recovery. But after four months of talks, frustrated senior Democrats said they would probably delay further action.

“People are in the mood of letting the dust settle before finding the next step,’’ said Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

The legislation would have increased budget deficits by $33 billion over the next decade.

The US House did pass a bill yesterday that spares doctors a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments. The measure, already passed by the Senate, would delay cuts six months while lawmakers work on a permanent solution. The bill goes to Obama for his signature.

Matt Viser of the Globe staff contributed to this report.