The U.S. Senate on Monday approved a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits for another five months, a move that must now be backed by the House of Representatives if it is to have any chance of becoming law, although passage of the bill in the lower chamber is not at all certain.
The final vote in the Senate was 59-38 in favor of the bill with several Republican senators lending their support, a situation that will presumably exert pressure on Republican House Speaker John Boehner to ensure the measure succeeds there.
The Democrats needed only a simple majority to pass the Senate bill after last week mustering more than the 60 required votes - including several Republicans - to prevent its blockage.
U.S. President Barack Obama said he was happy with the move, adding that Washington should put aside politics and help unemployed workers support their families while they are seeking work.
Dean Heller, the bill's main Republican sponsor in the Senate, has asked to meet with Boehner to try and move the measure forward in the lower house, despite Republican skepticism there.
Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, said that the Republicans were ready to analyze extending unemployment benefits if and when measures are included to help create private sector jobs, claiming that last week Senate Democratic leaders ruled out any move to create jobs.
Benefits for the 1.3 million long-term unemployed - those who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks - had expired at the end of 2013 and Democratic efforts to extend them had failed in Congress on several occasions. The number of people in that category now stands at around 2 million.
The cost of providing federal unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed is about $6 billion every three months and so far it has proved impossible to reconcile Democratic requests to extend them with Republican demands for austerity, especially in terms of cutting back on social programs. EFE