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By Jeanne Mejeur

In something of a surprise move, the U.S. Senate overcame a threatened filibuster over the extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. The cloture vote passed the Senate with 60 votes on Tuesday, including approval by six Republican Senators. Thirty-seven senators voted “no” on the procedural question.

It was a surprising development, as the fight over unemployment benefits was predicted to be another bitter partisan showdown in both chambers. Even getting to the point of debate was expected to be a major hurdle.

The vote does not guarantee the bill to extend benefits will easily pass the Senate. It only allows the debate to begin. The measure faces even stiffer opposition in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Republicans oppose extending unemployment benefits without cuts elsewhere in the federal budget to offset the estimated $6.4 billion cost of the extension. There is also talk that support from Republicans will come with strings attached, to delay or change to the Affordable Care Act.

Philosophically, Republicans question the effectiveness of extended benefits, saying the availability of benefits encourages the unemployed to remain unemployed, rather than encouraging them to find a job.

Democrats counter that the extended benefits are necessary to help those who have been the hardest hit by the economic downturn. They contend the extension also serves as a boost to the overall economy as the recipients spend the funds on basic needs.

The number of long-term unemployed, those without a job for 27 weeks or more, totaled 4.1 million workers in November, and account for over 37 percent of the unemployed. National unemployment data for December will be released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.

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Jeanne Mejeur,  a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Management Program, covers employment issues for NCSL.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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