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Senate rejects jobless benefits extension

On campaign trail, Kerry misses vote

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America Votes 2004

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate rejected by one vote Tuesday a proposal to extend unemployment benefits to jobless Americans, and the vote quickly became an issue in the presidential campaign.

Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee, was the only senator to miss the vote. He was campaigning in Kentucky, and Republicans seized on his absence.

In a statement, President Bush's re-election campaign said Kerry was "too busy playing politics" to do his job.

But Democrats shot back that Republicans in the Senate -- most of whom opposed the measure -- engineered Tuesday's vote to embarrass Kerry, who has publicly supported the measure to extend unemployment insurance for an additional 13 weeks for those who have already exhausted their benefits.

"John Kerry has fought again and again to extend unemployment benefits for workers left behind in the Bush economy," said Kerry campaign spokesman David Wade. "The reason we haven't succeeded is because George Bush opposes extending unemployment insurance, and so do his allies."

The proposal to extend benefits was offered by Democrats as an amendment to a corporate tax bill. Senators voted 59-40 in favor of the measure -- but that was one vote short of the 60 needed to win the procedural vote under Senate rules.

"Last month, John Kerry was pushing for the extension of unemployment benefits. Today, he had the chance to actually vote on that question but was too busy playing politics when he would have made the difference in the Senate," said Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt.

"John Kerry's rhetoric on the campaign trail is hiding a long list of missed votes and empty promises on the issues he claims are priorities."

But a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, charged that Republicans engineered the vote to embarrass Kerry, suggesting that if he had been on hand Tuesday to vote for it, Republicans would have persuaded one of the 11 GOP senators who voted for the measure to change sides, killing it anyway.

Eleven Republicans sided with the Democrats in favor of the measure; one Democrat, Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, sided with most of the Republicans who opposed it.

The 11 Senate Republicans who supported the benefits extension were John McCain of Arizona; Christopher Bond and Jim Talent of Missouri; Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island; Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine; Mike DeWine and George Voinovich of Ohio; Gordon Smith of Oregon; Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

CNN's Mike Roselli and Steve Turnham contributed to this report.

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