WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to advance the unemployment benefits extension bill, clearing procedural hurdle for the legislation.
In a 60-37 vote, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed a motion to begin debate on the bill, which would provide a three- month extension of the benefits program. An estimated 1.3 million unemployed Americans saw their benefits lapse when the program expired on Dec. 28.
The benefits came from the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, enacted under the Bush administration in 2008 to provide supplementary relief for the long-term unemployed who have exhausted standard state benefits.
Democrats argued that the extended unemployment benefits provide vital lifeline to the unemployed and critical economic stimulus to the U.S. economy by boosting consumer spending, while Republicans said unemployment benefits can be a disincentive for job hunting, and with the jobless rate now at a five-year low of 7 percent, such emergency federal assistance is no longer necessary.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said before the vote Tuesday that his party could accept extending the federal benefits only if they were paid for.
Extending jobless benefits is part of a larger message of economic fairness the White House and Democrats seek to highlight in the new year.