Senate Advances Debate on Unemployment Benefits

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Republicans joined Democrats in the Senate Tuesday to advance debate on an unemployment benefits bill.

President Barack Obama praised the move, saying it's an important first step.

At the White House Tuesday afternoon, he said an extension is needed because a lot of Americans are still struggling from the effects of the recession.

"Unemployment insurance has been a vital economic lifeline, the only means of support for families," the president said. "These are people not just sitting back, they want to work."

The unemployment benefits extension expired just three days after Christmas. The president and Senate Democrats want to extend it for another three months at a cost of $6.4 billion.

The bill restores up to 47 weeks of unemployment benefits - an average of $256 weekly to more than one million Americans.

Conservatives argue the nation can ill-afford more debt or the creation of a new, costly entitlement program.
 
Republicans such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., say they'll support the unemployment benefits extension only if Congress finds a way to pay for it.

Paul said he thinks it's "wrong to borrow money from China, or to simply print up money for it."

But the president insists Congress needs to respond quickly.

"If Congress passes this right away, I will sign it right away. Give people hope," Obama said.

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