Legislation to renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed has cleared an initial Senate hurdle, but the bill's fate remains in doubt.
The vote Tuesday was 60-37 to limit debate on the legislation, with a half-dozen Republicans siding with the Democrats. Georgia Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson voted against the bill. They are concerned the legislation will add to the deficit.
Isakson says “I voted against the procedural vote on unemployment insurance today because I am concerned by the $6.4 billion cost of this bill. I will work with my colleagues to find a way to pay for this legislation and to include amendments that provide workforce training for unemployed Americans.”
Senate Republicans served notice they would attempt to change the measure so the $6.4 billion cost would not add to deficits — a step that Democrats have so far rejected.
As drafted, the bill would restore between 14 weeks and 47 weeks of benefits averaging $256 weekly to an estimated 1.3 million long-term jobless who were affected when the program expired Dec. 28. Without action by Congress, thousands more each week would feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks.
The end of unemployment checks for more than a million jobless Americans has driven people to consider selling cars, moving and taking minimum wage work after already slashing household budgets and pawning personal possessions.
The change affected 1.3 million people when it went into effect at the end of December and will affect hundreds of thousands more who remain jobless in the months ahead.
The Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want to continue the program but the extensions were dropped from a budget deal last month. Republican lawmakers have balked at the program's $26 billion annual cost.