WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed a $10 billion measure to maintain unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and provide stopgap funding for highway programs after a holdout Republican dropped stalling tactics that had generated a Washington firestorm.
Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning had been holding up action since Thursday but conceded after pressure intensified with Monday's cutoff of road funding and extended unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless.
Bunning wanted to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so that it wouldn't add to the deficit, but his move sparked a political tempest that subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically. Bunning's support among Republicans was dwindling, while Democrats used to being on the defensive over health care and the deficit seemed to relish the battle.
The bill passed by a 78-19 vote. It passed the House last week and President Obama is likely sign the bill into law quickly so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work today.
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Doctors faced the prospect of a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments, and federal flood insurance programs had lapsed with Monday's expiration of an earlier stopgap bill that passed late last year.
Tuesday's action will provide a monthlong extension of the expired programs to give Congress time to pass a yearlong — and far more costly — fix that's also pending.
Without the legislation, about 200,000 jobless people would have lost federal benefits this week alone, according to the National Employment Law Project. Jobless people normally get 26 weeks of unemployment benefits and 20 more weeks in states with higher unemployment rates. The legislation extends several additional layers of benefits added since 2008 because of the stubborn recession.
Earlier on Tuesday, Bunning objected to a request by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, to pass a 30-day extension of jobless benefits and other expired measures.
When asked Tuesday if Bunning was hurting the Republican Party, Collins said, "He's hurting the American people."