US & Canada

US jobless benefits passes key Senate test vote

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Media captionThe US leader appeals to Washington politicians to renew payments to nearly 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans.

A bill to renew payments to some 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans has overcome a key vote in the Senate.

The chamber voted 60-37 to limit debate on the three-month extension of jobless benefits, beating the 60-vote hurdle.

But its path through the House is unclear, as the majority Republicans seek ways to offset the $6.4bn (£3.9bn) cost with budget savings elsewhere.

President Barack Obama urged Congress to extend the "vital economic lifeline" of the benefits.

'Not lazy'

He rejected arguments that the benefits strip the unemployed of the motivation to seek work.

"The long-term unemployed are not lazy," Mr Obama said. "They're not lacking in motivation. They're coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations."

The unemployment programme, which extends jobless benefits beyond the 26 weeks provided by most states, expired on 28 December, leaving those who have been unemployed for a long time without the weekly benefit.

Image caption The US unemployment rate is stubbornly high at 7% and job fairs like this one in Florida are well attended

With six Republicans joining Senate Democrats, lawmakers voted to limit debate on the bill, a key hurdle for passage. All 37 votes against limiting debate were Republican.

The six Republicans who voted for the bill were Rob Portman of Ohio; Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska; Susan Collins of Maine; Dan Coats of Indiana; and Dean Heller of Nevada.

But the Senate Minority Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would seek changes to the bill to include budget cuts so the bill's cost would not add to the budget deficit.

House Speaker John Boehner has endorsed this approach but Senate Democrats panned the effort.

The bill's co-sponsor, Senate Democrat Jack Reed, said it was more important to "help these families" who were "pushed off an economic cliff on December 28".

Among the Republican proposals is a delay of Mr Obama's healthcare law key mandate, a requirement to purchase health insurance or pay a tax penalty.

The move would potentially save money by removing the requirement to provide federal health subsidies for lower-income individuals.

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