WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted to move forward with legislation that would extend for three months unemployment benefits that recently expired for more than 1 million long-term jobless Americans.
U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., voted for renewing the expired benefit while U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., opposed it.
A final Senate vote on the measure is expected later this week. The House has not scheduled floor debate on the issue.
Tuesday’s vote was 60-37 with six Republicans joining 54 Democrats in supporting the bill that was co-authored by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.
Supporters argued that the benefits are needed now and that the temporary extension would give Congress time to consider a longer-term solution.
"We’ve seen significant improvements in our economy, yet too many Arkansans are still struggling to put food on the table, pay their bills and provide for their families," Pryor said in a statement. "I support this responsible provision that protects the livelihood and financial well-being of millions of families."
Opponents argued against spending an additional $6.4 billion without providing a budget offset.
"We can’t borrow from future generations to pay for the policies we find necessary today. If temporary unemployment benefits are a priority, we need to find a way to pay for them," Boozman said in a statement.
The emergency unemployment benefits began in 2008 to help out-of-work Americans through the recession, providing between 14 and 47 weeks of federal jobless aid to people who exhausted their state unemployment benefits.
But Congress did not include an extension of the benefits in a budget deal approved in December. In Arkansas, federal benefits have expired for an estimated 9,000 people.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee issued a news release Tuesday attacking U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., for his opposition to extending unemployment benefits. Cotton is Pryor’s likely Republican challenger in the senator’s re-election bid this year.
"By opposing an extension of unemployment insurance for Arkansans looking for work, Tom Cotton has shown nothing but disdain for unemployed workers in his state," said DSCC Justin Barasky.
Barasky pointed to a December radio interview in which Cotton said he supported the state’s 26-week program but that extended federal benefits was not a long-term solution.
Cotton campaign spokesman David Ray pointed to a statement Pryor made during an event in Little Rock expressing similar concerns about the federal benefits.
"He called the idea of extending unemployment benefits a "Band-aid," and said that they’re expensive and don’t create jobs," Ray said.
Pryor was quoted in an Arkansas News Bureau article in October 2011 speaking against a proposal by President Barack Obama to extend the long-term benefits as part of a job-creating initiative.
"You know, it’s a tough economy and we have millions of Americans who are out of work and it’s really hard and it’s sad, but at the same time that’s not really a job creator, and that’s also very expensive," Pryor said at the time.
The Senate had initially scheduled a vote on the bill for Monday evening but delayed it until Tuesday morning because flight delays due to weather had kept some lawmakers from returning on time.