WASHINGTON — Sen. Dean Heller came close.
For the past few weeks, Heller has been huddling with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and a number of Republican colleagues to come up with a compromise for a three-month, paid-for extension of long-term unemployment benefits.
On Thursday, he came just one Republican vote shy of pulling it off.
Four Republicans voted to advance the legislation, which all 53 Democrats and two independents supported.
“We are one Republican vote away from restoring unemployment insurance,” Reid said after Thursday’s vote, which failed to garner the 60 senators needed to avoid a procedural filibuster. “Right now, there is one Republican vote standing in between a lifeline for 1.7 million Americans.”
Heller, who along with Reid represents a state that still has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates at 8.8 percent, emerged as a broker for the measure when he coauthored the initial three-month extension with Reed and pledged to vote for an extension no matter what the pay-for terms.
A month ago — to Democrats’ surprise — he procured enough GOP votes to open discussion on the bill.
But some lawmakers — including Sens. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, — warned they wouldn’t be so bullish on the next procedural hurdle if senators didn’t find a suitable way to offset the estimated $6.4 billion cost to extend benefits.
On Thursday, Coats and Portman witheld their votes on the proposal, which would offset the cost by relaxing employer pension contributions, a move that increases federal tax revenue.
“Rather than work with us to find common ground, the majority leader once again chose to reject our ideas and block action on amendments to improve and pay for this legislation,” Coats said in a statement.
Coats wanted more assurances that people would lose benefits if they failed to accept “suitable work.”
Reid vowed to continue fighting, saying, “We are not going to give up on the unemployed.”
Heller, who did not make himself available for an interview after the vote, released a statement also suggesting the fight isn’t over.
“I have had numerous conversations with my Republican colleagues who would like to see these benefits extended,” Heller said. “We will keep negotiating with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reach a compromise that will secure these benefits for those who need them.”
It is not clear what steps are next or what provisions may be added to pull one more Republican along.