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.