Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called Tuesday's 60-37 Senate vote keeping alive consideration of a three-month extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed "an important victory."
Tuesday's procedural vote was to continue debate and keep the bill going. Six Republicans senators voted with the Democrats, offering some hope of a bipartisan compromise.
"At a time of growing wealth and income inequality, we cannot turn our backs on 1.3 million people who would be left out in the cold without this help," said Sanders, a cosponsor of the bill. He noted that unemployment insurance kept 2.5 million Americans, including 600,000 children, out of poverty in 2012.
"It makes both moral and economic sense to help people looking for work," Sanders added.
The legislation would restore benefits averaging $256 weekly to long-term jobless Americans who were cut off when the program expired Dec. 28. Duration of federal coverage generally ranges from 14 to 47 weeks, depending on the level of unemployment within individual states. The three-month cost to the Tr e a s u r y is estimated at $6.4 billion.
Without action by Congress, hundreds of thousands more will feel the impact in the months ahead as their state-funded benefits expire, generally after 26 weeks.
The outcome of Tuesday's vote to limit debate and keep the bill going appeared to catch Democrats off-guard. Republican opposition has ranged from the desire that more spending on the benefits be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget and concerns that such benefits create a culture of dependency among the unemployed.
The six Republicans who voted to overcome a filibuster were Dean Heller of Nevada, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Dan Coats of Indiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.
According to a release from Sanders, unless the benefits are restored and job hunters receive disposable income, the economy is expected to lose more than 200,000 jobs this year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Each dollar spent on unemployment insurance benefits generates $1.55 in economic recovery.
On his Twitter feed Tuesday, Vermont's senior senator, Democrat Patrick Leahy, said the bipartisan vote allows the senate to move forward on a "lifeline for millions of Americans" and a vital part of the ongoing economic recovery.
"I'm extremely pleased that the Senate came together this morning to advance a 3-month renewal of long-term unemployment benefits," said New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, on her Facebook page Tuesday.
"Renewing these benefits would give much needed relief to 1.3 million Americans - including 100,000 New Yorkers - as they continue to look for work," Gillibrand said. "I'm hopeful that the Senate can come to an agreement that will allow us to swiftly pass this extension, and I hope the House will act to do the same."
On Tuesday, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin urged Congress to extend the program. The governor said about 650 Vermonters lost the benefit with the program's expiration, losing an average weekly benefit of approximately $300. Up to 2,300 Vermonters could lose assistance over the first half of 2014.
"Vermont has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, yet many Vermonters continue to look for secure work as we pull out of the worst recession in history," Shumlin said. He thanked President Barack Obama and Vermont's congressional delegation for fighting for the program.
According to a statement released by Sanders, Congress has reauthorized the extended unemployment benefits program 11 times since the recession began in 2007. While there has been some modest improvement in the overall economy, there still are three job applicants for every job opening, meaning that there aren't enough jobs available for the 11 million Americans who are actively seeking work. As a result, 37 percent of all unemployed Americans have been out of work for more than six months.
The Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was first signed into law by President George W. Bush in June 2008. At that time, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent and the average length of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today, the official unemployment rate is 7 percent and the average length of unemployment is more than 36 weeks. At no time since 1958 has Congress failed to extend emergency unemployment benefits when long-term unemployment has been so high, according to the release.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact Mark Rondeau at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @banner_religion