But since Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine voted with Democrats to advance the $33 billion measure, its passage seems assured this month once a replacement is named for Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, who died on Monday. Democrats would then have a filibuster-proof majority for the bill.
About 1.3 million people who have been out of work for more than six months have already lost jobless checks averaging about $300 a week when benefits began running out earlier this month.
House Democrats postponed a vote scheduled for Wednesday. Democratic leaders were hoping to pass the extension before Congress goes on a weeklong Independence Day recess.RelatedHouse rejects extension of jobless benefitsJobs resources, tips and videos
Without an extension, every week a new 200,000 of the nearly 7 million people who have been without a job for at least six months will lose their unemployment benefits. About 1.3 million have already lost benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said.
In Tennessee, about 63,441 jobless workers will have exhausted all of their benefits by July 10 if no extension is approved, said Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. That number includes people who have run out of unemployment benefits since May 29, about the time the benefits lapsed because of lack of congressional reauthorization.
Many Democrats see state aid and unemployment benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession. Solis said extending benefits for the unemployed is a good way to stimulate the economy.
However, many Republicans and some Democrats worry about adding to the growing national debt.
"No one's disputing the value of these very important programs," said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. "But we also have to have tough choices, and we also need to live within our means."
Brown and other Republicans want to pay for the unemployment benefits with unspent money from last year's massive economic recovery package.
The Democrats' unemployment bill would provide up to a total of 99 weekly unemployment checks averaging $335 to people whose 26 weeks of state-paid benefits have run out. The benefits would be available through the end of November, at a cost of $33.9 billion. There are no offsets in the bill, so the cost would add to the budget deficit.
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