WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives approved on Thursday an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed amid signs of a continued weak U.S. jobs market, but its fate appears uncertain in the Senate.
The House voted 270-153 to restore benefits for more than 1 million people whose payments ran out in early June. The measure would extend the federal long-term jobless aid program through November and retroactively restore benefits to eligible people.
But the Senate has rejected several attempts to extend jobless benefits amid worries about record budget deficits, and it is not scheduled to address the issue again until mid-July.
“For every job available there are five unemployed workers,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Sander Levin. “This issue is fundamentally an emergency for our country and our economy.”
Republican opponents argued that the $34 billion cost should be offset by taking unspent money from last year’s economic stimulus program.
“Our inability to get our fiscal house in order isn’t just damaging the future generations, it is wreaking havoc on jobs today,” said Representative Dave Camp, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee.
Eleven fiscally conservative Democrats, many of whom represent low-unemployment areas, also voted against the measure. Some 29 Republicans voted for the bill.
The $1.4 trillion deficit and $13 trillion debt are becoming major issues in the run-up to the November congressional elections in which Republicans hope to regain control of Congress.
Voters are also nervous about the fragile economy and nearly 10 percent unemployment rate, and data released on Thursday suggest the jobs market remains weak.
New claims for state jobless benefits unexpectedly rose last week by 13,000 to 472,000, the Labor Department said. Analysts had expected claims to fall to 452,000.
A clearer picture of the U.S. jobs market will emerge on Friday when the government issues the June employment report.
The Senate must approve the bill before it can go to President Barack Obama to sign. But a Democratic effort to renew the program was blocked on Wednesday night by Senate Republicans who objected to deficit spending.
Democrats fell one vote short of the 60 needed in the 100-member Senate to advance the bill. Two Republicans, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, supported the Democratic effort. One Democrat, Ben Nelson, joined Republicans in opposing it.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he will try again in mid-July once a replacement for Senator Robert Byrd, who died on Monday, is named. A Democrat is expected to get the seat.
Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Xavier Briand