WASHINGTON — Democrats broke Republican-led opposition to a bill that would extend unemployment benefits to 2.5 million jobless Americans Tuesday, but the vote only hardened the divide between the parties and almost assured any further domestic aid before November will be all but impossible.
Though the Senate reached the 60 votes needed to end a GOP filibuster and force a final vote on the legislation, prospects for the next spending bill — which would enable states to avert teacher layoffs — appear doomed.
A vote that would send the unemployment benefits legislation to the House could come as soon as today. The House is expected to pass the bill and send it to President Barack Obama's desk for swift approval.
Obama's high-profile push for the unemployment extension has inspired further animosity from Republicans, who say voters are more concerned about the nearly $1.5 trillion federal deficit than government attempts to spur the economy with more spending.
But Democrats intend to press forward this week with new initiatives to promote job growth, further testing the parties' differing approaches to economic issues heading into the midterm elections.
"The other side stood in the way for so long," said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, after Tuesday's procedural vote. "It shouldn't take the slimmest of margins to do what's right."
Unemployment aid had stalled since June as most Senate Republicans repeatedly blocked bills they believe would add unnecessarily to the national debt.
Most Republicans want to pay for the jobless benefits by using unspent funds from the economic recovery bill passed last year. Democrats say unemployment benefits have traditionally been considered emergency spending and don't need a funding source. Republicans blocked three previous attempts to approve unemployment aid.
The measure passed Tuesday was a scaled back $33.9 billion unemployment package, shorn of earlier domestic spending proposals. The bill would extend benefits through November, and be retroactive to the late May cutoff.
Senate Democrats overcame the GOP-backed filibuster 60-40, joined by two Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted no. Florida Republican George LeMieux voted no and Democrat Bill Nelson voted yes.
The newest senator, Carte Goodwin, cast his vote minutes after being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden as West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's appointee to replace the late Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd. Manchin, 62, said Tuesday he will run for Byrd's in the state's Aug. 28 primary.