Senate Nears Restoring Jobless Benefits

WASHINGTON -- More than 2 million workers who have been laid off for long stretches could get their unemployment benefits restored as early as next week.

The Senate plans to take up a measure Tuesday to restore the extended benefits, right after a new Democratic senator from West Virginia is sworn in, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.

With the death of Sen. Robert Byrd, Senate Democrats had been a vote short of the 60 needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin has said he could name a temporary replacement to fill Byrd's seat as early as Friday.

The House already has passed a bill to extend the benefits through November, at a cost of about $34 billion. The money would be borrowed, adding to the national debt.

About 2.5 million people have lost their benefits since the last extension ran out at the end of May. The bill would add up to 73 weeks of extra benefits, paid for by the federal government, on top of the 26 weeks typically provided by states.

Reid, D-Nev., said Byrd's replacement will be sworn in Tuesday afternoon, and a bill to extend the jobless benefits will be up for a vote immediately afterward.

Lawmakers have been sparring for weeks over extending the benefits. Some Democrats have argued that lawmakers have a moral obligation to extend the benefits while the unemployment rate hovers above 9 percent. Many Democrats also see the benefits as insurance against the economy sliding back into recession because laid off workers typically spend their payments quickly, stimulating the economy.

Republicans, tapping into voter anger about the growing national debt, said they would support extending the benefits if the bill was paid for. They have proposed using unspent money from President Obama's massive 2009 economic recovery package, a plan Democrats oppose.