WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans narrowly blocked the advance of legislation to restore benefits for the long-term unemployed Thursday for the second time in less than a month, and Democrats said they intended to call yet another vote on the issue.
"We're one Republican vote away from restoring unemployment benefits for 1.7 million Americans," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The White House called the outcome disappointing.
The measure called for a three-month renewal of an expired program that provided as much as 47 weeks of federal benefits when state-paid aid runs out, generally after 26 weeks. The cost was estimated at slightly more than $6 billion over a decade. It would have been offset by lowering pension obligations for some companies, a step that would have increased their taxable income.
The vote was 58-40, two shy of the 60 that the measure's backers needed to prevail. That understated its true support, because Mr. Reid sided with opponents at the last minute in a maneuver that will permit him to have the issue reconsidered under Senate rules.
Four Republican senators -- Nevada's Dean Heller, Maine's Susan Collins, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski -- sided with 52 Democrats and two independents on the vote.
The attempt to renew expired jobless benefits was the first legislation that majority Democrats placed before the Senate this year, and represents the leading edge of their bid to gain support among economically-strapped voters at a time when polls show that voters are concerned about the gap between the rich and the poor.
At a news conference before the vote, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said bills to raise the federal minimum wage, provide women with equal pay for equal work and support early-childhood education would be put to a vote in the near future.
Speaking about Republicans, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Democrats had "met them more than halfway" in proposing a bill that was fully paid for, and in offering to give GOP lawmakers the opportunity to make changes if they could round up enough votes.
Mr. Reed, who represents a state with 9 percent unemployment, said some Republicans have called the long-term unemployed immoral, a description he said was "somewhat offensive."
One GOP critic of the bill, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, said in a statement, "We can get Americans back to work and our economy booming again, but this is not achieved by Washington turning a temporary federal benefit into another welfare program."
When the old program expired at year's end, officials said it cut off benefits for 1.3 million long-term jobless. Since then, Democrats say, the total has swelled to more than 1.7 million. The legislation's supporters say that while joblessness overall is receding, long-term unemployment is at a historically high level.
Under the legislation voted on Thursday, unemployed workers whose state benefits have expired would be eligible for a maximum of 47 more weeks of aid, depending on the level of joblessness within their states.
The vote came three weeks after Republicans prevented legislation from advancing that would have resurrected the expired program at reduced levels. Unlike the revised bill, the earlier one would have raised deficits under congressional budget scorekeeping standards.