Jobless-Aid Bill Advances in the Senate

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from The Wall Street Journal,

But Prospects in Both Senate, House Uncertain as Republicans Push for Offsetting the $6.5 Billion Cost.

Legislation to resurrect benefits for the long-term unemployed overcame an important procedural hurdle in the Senate Tuesday, triggering a debate over how to cover the cost and whether other changes could ease the bill through the Senate and a wary House.

The bill took a surprising leap forward with the Senate’s 60-37 vote to begin formal debate. Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) all but predicted defeat. But six Republicans joined with Democrats and independents to produce the 60 votes needed to keep the measure alive.

Many obstacles remain before the proposed three-month revival of the jobless benefits becomes law, as the parties remain at odds over whether and how to cover the $6.5 billion cost.

The vote came amid a campaign by the White House and congressional Democrats to publicize the impact on the 1.3 million people who lost benefits when the program expired in late December. The GOP defections were a sign that some Republicans were uneasy with hindering a program to help the long-term unemployed. Three of the GOP votes came from senators whose home states have jobless rates higher than the national average: Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Rob Portman of Ohio and Dan Coats of Indiana.

But many of the Republicans who voted to advance the bill said they wanted its costs to be offset so that it doesn’t add to the deficit, and they suggested they might vote no if it isn’t amended during floor debate. House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) also is demanding the bill contain offsetting spending cuts, as well as additional job-creation initiatives.

Mr. Reid, the Democratic leader, didn’t rule out the possibility of considering such offsets.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) voted to block the bill, but said he was encouraged by signs that Democrats were open to compromise. Still, he expressed suspicion that Democrats would block GOP amendments and gear the debate simply to election-year political messaging.

“Are we having discussions about how to pay for it?” said Mr. McConnell. “That would be an indication that they’d actually like to get a result, rather than just score political points for the fall election.”

Efforts to find a compromise are likely to involve the six Republicans who crossed party lines to advance the bill. In addition to Messrs. Heller, Portman and Coats, they were centrist Republicans with a record of crossing party lines—Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, who is up for re-election in 2014, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

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