WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate voted 56-40 Thursday to close debate on a bill that would extend unemployment benefits and ensure continued Medicare payments to doctors, just four votes short of the 60 needed to bring the bill to a final vote.
The Senate has been working on the legislation for several weeks, with passage proving more crucial after unemployment benefits for 900,000 jobless Americans expired June 2.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., was absent for voting Thursday and Sen. Joe Liebermann, I-Conn., voted with Republicans against closing debate.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., needs at least one Republican vote to cut off debate and move to a final vote.
The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, or the Tax Extenders Bill, would extend jobless benefits, secure Medicare payments to physicians, and renew expired tax breaks for small businesses.
Reid had said the bill would help jobless Americans “keep their heads above water.”
Vice President Joe Biden called the Republican filibuster “shameful” in a speech Thursday night. He said without continued payments to Medicare physicians, the doctors are left “constantly wondering if the costs of doing business are going to skyrocket.”
He said the uncertainty “adds to the anxiety of seniors all over the United States and complicates the planning of medical practices.”
Biden pleaded with Republican leaders to “stop walking away from these needs.”
Doctors are set to get a 21 percent pay cut on Medicare claims, which was scheduled to go into effect June 1 but was put on hold.
Republicans have said they will not pass the bill until the costs of the legislation are offset, complaining that Democrats plan to “rob” extra revenue taken in from a tax hike on oil companies contained in the legislation to pay for government programs.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a Senate floor speech Thursday that the bill would add $50 billion to the national debt. He told senators that they could “either vote to reduce the deficit, or they can lock arms with the Democrat leadership and dig an even deeper hole of debt when most Americans think $13 trillion is far too much already.”
Reid had been trying to get the bill passed before the July 4 recess.