WASHINGTON – Legislation to renew jobless benefits for America’s long-term unemployed has cleared an initial Senate hurdle, but the fate of a bill that is one of President Barack Obama’s top priorities remains in doubt.
The vote Tuesday was 60-37 to limit debate on the legislation. But Republicans said they would try to change the measure so the $6.4 billion cost would not add to deficits — a step that Democrats have so far rejected.
As the 2014 midterm election year begins, the White House has made it a major issue to renew the jobless benefits that lapsed last month for an estimated 1.3 million people.
“We’ve got to make sure that this (economic) recovery leaves nobody behind,” Obama said at a White House event shortly after the vote. He has said the extension of benefits should be the “first order of business in 2014.”
The three-month extension of benefits is part of a Democratic program ahead of the November election in which control of Congress is at stake.
Other issues for Democrats include raising the minimum wage, closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and corporations, and enacting other measures designed to demonstrate sympathy with those who suffered during the worst recession in decades.
As drafted, the bill would restore between 14 weeks and 47 weeks of benefits averaging $256 weekly.
Without action by Congress, thousands more each week would feel the impact as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks.
Sen. Jack Reed said many affected are middle-class, middle-aged people who never thought they would wind up in the situation of long-term unemployment.
Associated Press writer David Espo contributed.