The U.S. Senate has cleared a legislative hurdle aimed at restoring jobless benefits to 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers whose aid expired late last month.
The Senate voted 60 to 37 Tuesday to continue debate on the plan to pay the workers. The payments involve $6.5 billion over the next three months. The Senate now appears set to approve the funding on a final vote, but the measure's fate remains uncertain in the House of Representatives.
In the House, many of the majority Republicans oppose extension of the jobless aid without cutting the same amount of money from some other program.
U.S. President Barack Obama says extending the jobless benefits is his first legislative priority of the new year, saying it is essential to help the affected workers pay their bills and to support the improving American economy. He met at the White House with some of the unemployed workers and then urged Congress to quickly restore the funding.
"We've got to make sure that this recovery leaves nobody behind."
In politically divided Washington, the fight over extending unemployment benefits is the latest dispute over government spending.
Democratic lawmakers generally support increased funding for government social programs. Republicans often want to cut such spending.
The Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, said that despite the growing U.S. economy, too many people have been left behind.
"We have to understand there are people really hurting. Now, for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, millions of whom have struggled for months to find new work, a boring stock market and increasing corporate profits are little comfort to them."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said funding for Mr. Obama's signature health care reforms should be cut to pay for the jobless benefits.