Capitol Hill Bureau Chief
The Senate voted 59 to 39 Wednesday night to renew jobless benefits for roughly 2.5 million Americans whose unemployment help expired in June.
Benefits would be paid retroactively to the time they originally expired and will continue through November. People who have been out of work for up to 99 weeks will be eligible for the extension.
Of the 13 million Americans without full-time jobs, 7 million have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks.
The bill, which now goes to the House, also extended eligibility for the home buyer tax credit. People who signed a contract on a home before April 30 can claim the credit if they close before October 1.
The final Senate vote came a day after Democrats ended a months-long GOP filibuster. Republicans warned the measure will grow the federal deficit by $34 billion, since most of the cost is not offset with budget cuts elsewhere.
With the unemployment rate at 9.5 percent, Democrats have argued for months that jobless benefits should be extended without going through the arduous task of finding cuts to offset the new spending. The Republican leadership has recommended using unspent stimulus funds to pay for the bill, an idea that Democrats have rejected.
"I think you could get 100 votes in the Senate if you could find a way to pay for it," Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) said.
Republicans had blocked the measure three times, but failed to do so again Tuesday when two Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, crossed party lines to support the bill and newly minted Democratic Sen. Carte Goodwin (D-W.Va.) cast the crucial 60th vote to end the filibuster.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is happy with the win, but blamed Republicans for the delay, which he said was not necessary.
"It should have never taken so long," Reid said. "I am terribly disappointed that, with the exception of my two colleagues from Maine, Republicans dragged this process out for weeks and weeks. They repeatedly refused to extend this emergency assistance and then, after they lost the debate and the checks were written, they decided to keep us from putting them in the mail."
The House will consider the measure on Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the measure will get a swift vote and after which White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the president will sign it quickly.
At least one crucial Republican, Minority Leader John Boehner, said Wednesday that unemployment and the struggling economy have impacted his own family.
"I've got real empathy for those who are unemployed," he said at a lunch sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "I've got 11 brothers and sisters. I know that three of my brothers lost their jobs, I'm not sure whether they've found jobs, yet, so I've got a lot of empathy for those caught in this economic downturn."