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WASHINGTON (AP) — With a new face and a 60th vote for breaking a Republican filibuster, Senate Democrats are preparing to restore jobless checks for 2.5 million people whose benefits ran out during a congressional standoff over deficit spending. President Barack Obama says, "It's time to do what's right."
But first, Obama and his Democratic allies are pressing for maximum political advantage, blaming Republicans for an impasse that halted unemployment checks averaging $309 a week for those whose eligibility had expired.
Obama launched a fresh salvo on Monday, demanding that the Senate act on the legislation — after a vote already had been scheduled for Tuesday — and blasting Republicans for the holdup.
"The same people who didn't have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn't offer relief to middle-class Americans," Obama said.
Republicans say they do favor the benefits but are insisting that they be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere in the government's $3.7 trillion budget. After initially feeling heat when a lone GOP senator, Jim Bunning of Kentucky, briefly blocked a benefits extension back in February, the GOP has grown increasingly comfortable in opposing the legislation.
"What the president isn't telling the American people is that many of us in the Senate are fighting to make sure our children and grandchildren aren't buried under a mountain of debt," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "If we are going to extend unemployment benefits, then let's do it without adding to our record debt."
Tuesday's Senate voting — with Democratic newcomer Carte Goodwin of West Virginia being sworn in just in time to cast the 60th vote to break a GOP filibuster — will cap a battle of more than four months that's featured bad blood and a shift in sentiment among key Republicans.
Though the economy is said to be slowly recovering, the jobless rate remains painfully high at 9.5 percent. And Obama, putting a human face on those hard times, brought three unemployed people to the Rose Garden with him on Monday.
An increasing number of people, however, have been out of work for so long that they have exhausted their eligibility for benefits, which ends at 99 weeks in most states. This measure won't help them.