WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Efforts to renew emergency federal jobless benefits for 1.5 million Americans stalled in the Senate on Tuesday when Democrats and Republicans rejected each other’s proposals.
Both sides vowed to keep looking for a compromise, but it appeared unlikely they would find one before next week’s Senate recess.
“It is extremely important that we act, and today we failed to act,” said Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
“It is not over,” said Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. “We are not going to give up.”
If and when the Democratic-led Senate passes a bill to extend benefits, the measure would have to be approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives before it could go to President Barack Obama to sign into law.
Obama has been pushing Congress to renew the benefits for the long-term unemployed - people who have been out of work for at least six months. Their benefits expired on December 28.
“It’s very disappointing that Republicans in the Senate chose to block action tonight on a compromise solution to extend emergency unemployment insurance for 1.3 million Americans who have been actively looking for a job and have now had this vital lifeline cut off,” the White House said in a statement.
“We will continue to work with both sides to find a solution because the cost of inaction is simply too high,” the White House added.
Since December 28, the number of long-term unemployed has risen to 1.4 million from 1.3 million. Unless funding for the federal program that provided the benefits is restored, the number of jobless Americans losing benefits is expected to increase by 72,000 a week.
Republicans and Democrats have accused each other of being more interested in jockeying for political position than actually extending jobless benefits.
On Tuesday, Democrats rejected as inadequate a Republican proposal to renew benefits for three months at a cost of about $6.5 billion, which would have been offset by cuts elsewhere.
Republicans rejected as excessive a Democratic proposal to extend benefits until the mid-November at a cost of $18 billion, which would also have been offset by other spending cuts.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid offered to allow Republican amendments on Tuesday, but Republicans rejected the terms requiring that amendments get at least 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to pass.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell called the Reid offer “ridiculous.”
An aide to McConnell complained that under the Reid plan, Democrats would be allowed to revamp the entire bill and push it through the Senate with a simple majority.
Democrats control the Senate, 55-45.
Reid brushed off the criticism and said the Senate needed to step up and help the jobless.
“We need to remember the urgency of this matter,” Reid said. “There are lot of people who are desperate.”
Reporting by Thomas Ferraro and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Dan Grebler, Meredith Mazzilli and Peter Cooney