Unemployment Benefits Extension Clears Hurdle

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WASHINGTON — Legislation to restore unemployment benefits to millions who have been out of work for more than six months broke free of Senate Republican delaying tactics on Tuesday.

Senators voted 60-40, clearing the way for passage of the bill later on Tuesday. The measure would restore jobless checks for 2.5 million people whose benefits started running out seven weeks ago in a stubbornly jobless economic recovery. [See who donates the most to your member of Congress.]

The vote was a modest victory for President Barack Obama and Democrats, whose more ambitious hopes for a jobs agenda have mostly fizzled in the face of GOP opposition in the Senate. A battle has raged for months over whether jobless benefits should be financed with additional federal debt as Democrats want or through cuts to other government programs as most Republicans insist.

The vote came moments after Carte Goodwin was sworn in as a successor to West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, who died last month at the age of 92. Goodwin was the crucial 60th senator to defeat a Republican filibuster that has led to a lapse in benefits for 2.5 million people.

The Senate gallery was packed with Goodwin supporters, who broke into applause as he cast his "aye" vote.

Two Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, voted to end the filibuster. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the lone Democrat to break with his party and vote to sustain it.

After a final Senate vote, the House is expected to approve it and send it to President Barack Obama on Wednesday.

"This bill is about jobs because unemployment insurance goes to people who will spend it immediately," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. "That would increase economic demand. And that would help support our fragile economic recovery." [See which industries donate the most to Baucus.]

But Republicans say that while they support the benefits extension it should be paid for with cuts elsewhere in the $3.7 trillion federal budget.

"We've repeatedly voted for similar bills in the past. And we are ready to support one now," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "What we do not support — and we make no apologies for — is borrowing tens of billions of dollars to pass this bill at a time when the national debt is spinning completely out of control."