WASHINGTON — A measure restoring jobless benefits of up to 99 weeks for people struggling to find work after months of unemployment has hit a temporary snag in the Senate.

Despite winning the single Republican vote they needed, Democrats Wednesday fell just short of the 60 votes necessary to defeat a GOP challenge to the jobless benefits measure. Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was absent to attend the funeral of a close friend. But Democrats are likely to win a revote Wednesday after Leahy returns to Washington.

Republicans were seeking to force Congress to pay for its $18 billion cost and not add to budget deficits topping $1 trillion. But George Voinovich, R-Ohio, broke with his party to vote with Democrats.

The temporary measure would extend jobless benefits averaging $335 a week through June 2. A program providing federally-funded benefits to people who have been out of a job more than six months lapsed last week, which means more than 200,000 people a week are unable to reapply for additional weeks of benefits.

Additional weeks of jobless benefits have traditionally been routinely extended during times of high unemployment and have previously always been paid for by adding to the national debt.

But with the deficit easily surpassing $1 trillion — and with the issue of deficits and debt is of increasing concern to voters — many Republicans are now insisting they be financed by spending cuts elsewhere in the $3.7 trillion federal budget.


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