WASHINGTON - After weeks of political haggling, the Senate agreed yesterday to take up legislation that would give people running out of unemployment benefits up to 20 more weeks of federal aid.
Senate Democrats, saying that 7,000 people a day are exhausting their benefits, called on their colleagues to move quickly to a final vote. Republicans insisted they get a chance to offer amendments on the benefit bill and other issues.
Also in play was the possibility the bill would be used as a vehicle to extend another policy that has been central to the Obama Administration's efforts to revive the economy: an $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers.
The vote was 87-13 to bring the bill to the floor. Sixty votes were needed to pass that procedural hurdle.
The legislation would provide 14 weeks of extra financial aid for everyone exhausting their benefits by the end of the year, and another six weeks for those living in 27 states where the unemployment rate is at least 8.5 percent.
The White House issued a statement in support of extending benefits: "Helping unemployed workers is an effective way to boost the economy and an important part of the administration's broader efforts to move swiftly and aggressively to jump-start job creation and grow our economy."
The House passed a less generous benefit extension more than a month ago, but Senate Republicans, at odds with Democrats over what amendments they can offer to the bill, have blocked Senate consideration.
As the Senate voted, Senate leaders were still trying to reach agreement on a formula to extend the homebuyer credit and whether it would be combined with the unemployment bill or brought up separately. The Senate expected to begin taking up amendments today.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said that in the three weeks that action on the bill has been stalled nearly 150,000 people have lost their benefits. "To say that I am disappointed is an understatement," he declared.
The states normally provide 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, with payments of about $300 a week. Since the beginning of the recession, the federal government has chipped in with added help.
The jobless in those states hardest hit by the economic downturn are now entitled to up to 79 weeks.