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Bill to Extend Unemployment Benefits Clears Senate Hurdle

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In a nail-biter of a vote, the Senate agreed to move forward with legislation that would extend emergency unemployment benefits, but the legislation still faces an uphill fight. Washington bureau reporter Michael Scotto filed the following report for NY1.

Legislation to extend emergency unemployment benefits for three months cleared a major procedural hurdle Tuesday, after Democrats, with the help of just six Republicans, were able to get the 60 votes needed to ward off a filibuster.

Shortly after the vote, President Barack Obama, surrounded by people looking for work, urged Congress to take the bill to the finish line.

"Voting for unemployment insurance helps people and creates jobs, and voting against it does not," Obama said.

The fight comes a little more than a week after more than 1 million Americans, including 127,000 New Yorkers who have been out of work for six months, stopped receiving unemployment checks.

Republicans don't dispute that unemployment is a problem, but many say lawmakers need to figure out how to pay for the extension first, which is expected to cost $6 billion.

"Let's find a way to pay for these UI benefits so we're not adding to an already completely unsustainable debt," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats argue that most of the previous extensions were done with no strings attached, including those under President George W. Bush, but they say they are willing to negotiate this time, up to a point.

"If our Republican colleagues continue to play games with this, they'll show how far out of the mainstream they are," said Sen. Charles Schumer.

This legislative fight is likely to be the first of many this year focused on middle- and low-income workers. Democrats have signaled that they are going to take a page from Mayor Bill de Blasio's successful playbook and shine a spotlight on income inequality.

Democrats see the battle over unemployment benefits as playing into their strategy. Still, it's unclear if Republicans are going to budge. At this point, the House has indicated that it won't take up the bill as is, even if it passes the Senate.

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