WASHINGTON: Legislation to give additional months of unemployment benefits to people who have been out of a job for more than half a year cleared a key hurdle Tuesday that guarantees it will soon pass the Senate.
The sweeping bill also would prevent doctors from absorbing a crippling cut in Medicare payments and extends health insurance subsidies for the unemployed through December. It would add $132 billion to the budget deficit over the next year and a half.
Eight Republicans voted with Democrats to defeat a GOP filibuster of the measure, setting up a final vote today.
The measure illustrates the great extent to which direct help for the jobless and the poor makes up a large portion of Democrats' election-year agenda on jobs and that it threatens to squeeze out other items on that agenda amid concerns about a budget deficit projected at a record $1.6 trillion this year.
Democrats also hope this week to separately finish work on a far smaller job-creation measure blending additional highway spending with new tax breaks for companies that hire the unemployed.
The Senate could clear the measure for President Barack Obama's signature by Friday.
Tuesday's larger bill also provides the annual extension of $26 billion worth of tax breaks for businesses and individuals that are popular with senators in both parties.
The $66 billion cost of providing the extended unemployment checks is added directly to a budget deficit expected to hit $1.6 trillion this year.
In states with the highest jobless rates people are eligible to receive benefits for up to 99 weeks.
A 65 percent health insurance subsidy for the unemployed under the COBRA program adds about another $10 billion.
Federal cash to help states with Medicaid adds about $25 billion more.