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May 26, 2017

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Senate passes insurance extension for jobless

WASHINGTON--The U.S. Senate voted Monday to restore unemployment benefits for nearly three million Americans, sending the legislation to the House of Representatives, where the emergency aid is opposed by many Republicans.

The legislation retroactively restores payments, averaging about US$300 per week, for some 2.8 million people from the end of last year, when the benefits to the longterm unemployed were cut off, and extends them five months, until June 1.

Six Republicans joined the Democratic majority in voting for the benefits, which lawmakers have jousted over for four months.

Democrats and Republicans have debated repeatedly how the nearly US$10 billion cost of the program would be covered.

The compromise deal, which makes offsetting spending cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, passed by a vote of 59 to 38.

U.S. President Barack Obama has long called for restoration of the benefits he called a "vital economic lifeline," and while he praised Monday's bipartisan vote he pressed the House to take action.

"As I've said time and again, Washington needs to put politics aside and help these hard-working, responsible Americans make ends meet and support their families as they look for a job," Obama said in a statement.

"I urge House Republicans to stop blocking a bipartisan compromise that would stem this tide, take up the bill without delay, and send it to my desk."

House leaders, including Speaker John Boehner, have pushed a job-creation agenda, and several Republicans want to see issues such as approving construction of the transcontinental Keystone XL oil pipeline attached to the unemployment benefits bill.

"As the speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.

Other Republicans are firmly opposed to the benefits, arguing it is no longer appropriate for such emergency aid six years after they were first approved at the dawn of the recession.

But seven House Republicans, some from high-unemployment districts, wrote Boehner late last urging him to "immediately consider this (Senate) bill or a similar measure to restore unemployment benefits to struggling Americans."

Democrats, meanwhile, are not letting up on their push for legislation that they believe positions themselves ahead of elections as the party supporting America's working and middle classes.

This week, the Senate will vote on a measure that demands equal pay for equal work, an effort to end U.S. pay discrimination that currently sees women paid an average of 77 percent of what men receive for the same job.

Democrats will also introduce a proposal that raises the national minimum wage from the current US$7.25 an hour to US$10.10. Some Republicans have dismissed the move as a job-killer.

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