Senate passes benefits package on 59-39 vote

After more than six weeks of wrangling, the Senate voted 59-39 to retroactively restore unemployment benefits to the more than 2.5 million Americans who have been out of work for at least six months. 

The House is set to take up the $34 billion benefits extension first thing Thursday, according to senior House Democratic aides. 

President Obama is expected to quickly sign the bill that will start the flow of weekly unemployment checks since federal benefits expired June 2. The bill provides benefits through November. 

House aides blamed the hold-up on the Senate’s late completion on the bill, saying it would take several hours to wrap up work on the bill and that passage wouldn’t be completed until after midnight.

The House Rules Committee would need to provide an hour’s notice to Republicans to meet. The House would then have to debate the rule, vote on the rule, then debate the bill and take a final vote, probably amounting to at least four or five hours of time, aides said. 

Two Republicans — Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe — supported the measure in its final vote. 

Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the lone Democrat to vote against the measure. 

The bill provides up to 99 weeks of benefits in the states with the highest unemployment rates. The long-term jobless in every state are eligible for the benefits once state benefits run out after 26 weeks. 

The legislation was held up over whether the measure would be paid for. Senate Republicans had pushed for offsets, including the use of stimulus money, whereas Democrats considered the funding as emergency spending. 

In the past, when unemployment was high, lawmakers have opted to treat the bills as emergency spending and not pay for them. But with rising debts and concerns over a European debt crisis, Republicans focused on trying to pay for the bill. 

About 43 percent of unemployed workers had been out of work for six months or more and 29 percent of unemployed workers had been jobless for more than a year, according to a recent Joint Economic Committee report.