The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday 60-40 to end a Republican-led filibuster of legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for an estimated 2.5 million Americans.
The procedural move sets the stage for a final Senate vote, possibly later Tuesday, and approval in the House on Wednesday.
The Senate had failed to pass the extension on three previous attempts since June. Most Republicans have argued that the $33.9 billion measure should be paid for with funds from the Recovery Act. The seating of Carte Goodwin as the new Democratic senator from West Virginia just before the vote supplied the necessary votes to overcome a key procedural hurdle.
Two Republicans — Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — voted to support the extension, and a lone Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted no.
When Goodwin cast his vote, applause broke out in the visitors gallery, in violation of Senate protocol.
“I could not feel more privileged than I do to cast my first vote as a member of the United States Senate to have it be a vote that helps millions of Americans,” Goodwin said after the vote. “These are real issues that affect real West Virginians and real Americans in very real ways, and I feel privileged to have played a small role in helping to move this legislation forward.”
With just over 100 days before the mid-term elections, Democrats ramped up political pressure over the jobless vote. President Obama criticized Republicans on Monday for denying unemployed Americans “much-needed relief.”
Republicans showed they are not about to take Obama’s criticisms without punching back, believing the public is on their side in making deficit reduction the priority.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said Tuesday the debate was not about extending jobless benefits, but about adding to the national debt.
“Unfortunately, the president has decided to turn this debate into a political exercise,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “And in doing so, he cheapens public discourse and does a disservice to the people this bill is meant to help.”
Several Democratic senators told hardship stories on the Senate floor on Tuesday of families in their states that were struggling without jobs and in need of extended benefits.
Upon final passage and with President Obama’s signature, money will begin flowing to jobless workers across the country. California, New York, Florida and Illinois are among the states with the highest numbers of jobless whose benefits have expired. The benefits would be retroactive to June and last through November.