WASHINGTON – A short-term extension of emergency unemployment benefits moved forward Tuesday in the Senate over the objections of most Republicans in the chamber.
The federal program was put in place at the beginning of the recession and provides benefits beyond the traditional 26 weeks available in most states, but it expired Dec. 28.
Democrats have put forward a proposal to renew the program for three months. It cleared a key procedural hurdle Tuesday on a vote of 60 to 37.
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has fought for the extension and voted to move the proposal forward. He and other Democrats say it's a vital lifeline for the many Americans still struggling to find steady work in a weak economy.
His home-state colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, voted against the proposal, saying the renewed benefits should be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget given the nation's mounting debt.
Sens. Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, both Nebraska Republicans, also opposed the measure and criticized it for adding billions to the deficit.
Johanns said he would be more open to the proposal if it were paired with cuts elsewhere in the budget, but he also said that by their nature temporary, emergency benefits should end at some point.
"There is a point at which the emergency is over and you have to get back to the previous program," Johanns said.