Washington (CNN) – Senate Democrats managed to get enough Republican support to take up a proposed extension of unemployment benefits Monday evening, but whether they have the votes to get past further GOP opposition remained uncertain, Democratic aides said.
Republicans, led by fiscal hawk Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, say they don't oppose extending unemployment benefits - they want Democrats to find a way to offset the nearly $10 billion price tag for the one-month extension. Democrats argue that cutting spending to pay for the jobless benefits, which average about $300 a week, would diminish the money's stimulative effect on the still-sagging economy.
"Do we have the presence of mind to do this in a way that doesn't hurt our children?" Coburn asked during a floor speech. 'We're debating whether to take from those who come after us and give to those today."
But four Republicans - Scott Brown of Massachusetts,; Susan Collins and Olympia Snow, of Maine and George Voinovich of Ohio - joined 56 Democrats in voting to bring up the bill. But Democrats are less confident they will get the 60 votes they need to get the bill through the Senate later this week, two Democratic leadership aides told CNN.
Brown, the Senate's newest member, told CNN he wanted to "help move things forward" but wanted Democrats to find a way to pay for the benefits before he decides how to vote on the final bill.
"Make no mistake, while people are hurting, people paying their bills are also hurting. We need to find a way to pay for this," Brown said.
Benefits for about 200,000 of the roughly 15 million unemployed U.S. workers expired April 5. Another 1 million could see their unemployment checks stop at the end of the month unless Congress acts, Democrats said.
"These are not deadbeats. These are not bums," Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said on the Senate floor Monday. "These are people who are out of work, have been out of work a long time and struggled to find a job."
The bill is the first order of business following the congressional recess, and aides predict the debate will dominate Senate action this week, with a final vote coming Thursday or Friday.
Lawmakers left town two weeks ago without approving the extension after Coburn blocked quick passage. It is the second time Congress is moving a short-term extension of benefits because House and Senate Democrats can't agree on how to pay for a larger, longer-term bill.
While Democrats believe the Republicans will appear as obstructionists, Republicans think their argument is actually tapping into voters' frustration that Washington, controlled by Democrats, is out of control on spending.
"Democrats can no longer hide behind the argument of good intentions when the results threaten our very stability as a nation. We must get a handle on the deficit and the debt," said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky. "This is the issue we will focus our attention on in the weeks and months ahead."
But Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, accused Republicans of being hypocritical. The GOP supported deficit spending for bank bailouts, war costs and other priorities of the Bush administration, but now are insisting on paying for unemployment benefits, the Illinois senator said.
Updated: 6:53 p.m.
– CNN's Ted Barrett and Dana Bash contributed to this report.
It's funny to me, to think any of congress would have the presence of mind to be in tune with the average Joe. Some Americans were waiting on unemployment checks while they were on vacation. They have excellent coverage while you spend a year debating on mine.
You guys have been pretty consistant on giving yourselves raises over the years. During the Bush administration I dont remember not one republican being concerned with the budget? That's right .....WMD!!
I have a suggestion that might get the ball rolling on this issue. DON'T PAY CONGRESS UNTIL THEY GET THIS SITUATION RESOLVED.
If these extensions are so important then PAY FOR THEM!!!!
It is interesting that some republicans now want to look good on helping working folks but I expect they will find a way to say NO when it actually comes to a vote.
Dem's passed the "pay as you go" legislation so..... PAY AS YOU GO! No more adding to the debt. Cut spending somewhere to pay for the unemployment extension or don't do it!! It is what we all have to do as responsible citizens.... it is time the government did the same.
As noted earlier, it should be possible for the Congress to justify the extension of the unemployment benefits based on the profits from the TARP returns by the banks/ Wall Street.
The refuseniks have a lot of gall to criticize Democrats on spending when during the Bush years, they could not find a spending opportunity they did not like; moreover, none of their spending spree was paid for. It was all on the credit card or as republicans now say: "Robbing future generations."
What a bunch of lying hypocrites republicans are.
Perhaps they should end the 4 billion dollar a year in Crop Subsidies that Oklahoma gets (More than any other State) and give it to the Families of the victims of the Bush recession.
If this Senator has a problem with hand outs and not paying for stuff, I am sure he would not mind.
I'm sick and tired of both the Republicans and Democrats playing games and not getting business done like it needs to be done on the hill. I would love to support a political measure to effectively terminate every last member of congress and their benefits and elect new representation to both houses and not permitting the re-election of current members. We need people that actually represent the people who come from the people... not career politicians... to get change done within our government.
I would also like to see that to be a senator you must have had served in the military become a requirement to run for office.
It appears that most of the senators who were against this exension were the typical black hearted and souess Republicans. These senatore act more like true monarchists rather than true parlimentarians. Henry VIII would be very proud of them.
How about they compromise at paying for half of the extension? I don't agree with the idea after all this talk of Pay-Go and then it seems like it gets ignored but it seems better then not paying for any of it...
Welcome to the Obama Economy. Mortgage interest rates now rising due to the Obama Bailout / Porkulus, Borrow for Obamacare plans. Unemployment (private sector) increasing as businesses cut back due to falling demand from laid off workers and increased taxes. And finally, increasing inflation due to the Obama deficit.
Carter's Stagflation is now Obama's Staglfation.
2012 cannot come fast enough.
it is amazing to me that there was no problem bailing out the bank ceo's and the insurance companies and car industry who caused their own problems but it will be a huge political issue to help the real victims..the common man who is just trying to survive. I worked hard all my life. I am a 52 year old single mother. I have worked for the same company for 34 years when my company was sold and my department was sent out of state.. I need longer unemployment. There are no jobs in my town. I have a son trying to go to college. Somebody please help people like me. we need longer benefits. Help!