House Republicans blocked a three-month extension of unemployment benefits, which are set to expire on Nov. 30.

The bill would have extended federal emergency unemployment insurance through Feb. 28, 2011, preventing 2 million unemployed workers from losing their benefits by the end of the year and over another 2 million by February. It would have cost $12.5 billion.

It was brought to the House floor under the rules of suspension, requiring it to garner two-thirds of the votes. However, with a vote of 258-154, the bill fell short of passage by 17 votes. Eleven House Democrats voted against the measure, seven House Democrats did not cast votes, and 21 Republicans voted for the benefits extension. However, House Democrats blamed Republicans for blocking the measure.

“I don't see how Republicans can go home for Thanksgiving  knowing that, because they  blocked this bill, hundreds of thousands of people may not have a turkey on their table,” said Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander M. Levin, D-Mich.  “Ensuring that millions of Americans looking for work receive the benefits they depend on to put food on the table should be a bipartisan effort. I wonder, if the 2 million people who are going to lose their benefits by the end of the year were brought to the House floor, would anyone look them in the face and vote no?  We will continue fighting on behalf of these unemployed Americans when Congress returns.”

The temporary federal unemployment benefits programs will start phasing out at the end of November should Congress fail to extend them. This means that even individuals exhausting the six months of regular, state-provided unemployment benefits after Thanksgiving will become ineligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would try to pass the extension when the House returns from its Thanksgiving break, but the prospects for passage in the Senate appear bleak as Congress remains bitterly divided along partisan lines.

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