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Senate Moves Forward on Jobless Benefits Extension

Four Republicans joined Democrats Monday in a 60-34 procedural vote to move forward on legislation to extend unemployment insurance and other benefits on a short-term basis.

GOP Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and George Voinovich (Ohio) sided with the Democrats on the chamber’s first vote following the two-week spring recess.

Following the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that another procedural motion would likely occur Tuesday afternoon. The short-term benefits extension could receive final approval as soon as Wednesday.

The issue of unemployment benefits has repeatedly come up in the chamber this year, with Republicans demanding the measures be paid for, while Democrats consider it emergency spending that does not require offsets.

“I don’t think there’s any question we need to do what we can to help those who have been hurt by this difficult economy, but what I simply cannot understand is why we can’t do it without adding to our sky-high deficit,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement following the floor vote.

But Snowe said benefits should not be held up in the name of deficit reduction.

“We should not be contributing more anxiety, more despair to an already frustrated group of people,” she said.

The Senate tried to take up the short-term extension before Members left town last month for the recess, but Members reached an impasse. As a result, the jobless benefits expired on April 5; under the current proposal, the benefits would continue until May 5.

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