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Unemployment benefit bill moves forward in Senate

From Ted Barrett, CNN Congressional Producer
Sen. Mitch McConnell says the measure would spend more than Democrats' health care overhaul would save.
Sen. Mitch McConnell says the measure would spend more than Democrats' health care overhaul would save.
  • Measure to extend benefits, tax cuts clears procedural hurdle
  • Senate to resume debate on Wednesday
  • Republicans protest what they say is measure's high price tag

Washington (CNN) -- A nearly $140 billion bill to extend unemployment benefits and a host of expiring tax cuts cleared a procedural hurdle Tuesday in the Senate on a vote of 66-34.

The Senate is scheduled to resume considering the measure on Wednesday.

Eight Republicans joined with all Democratic senators except for Ben Nelson of Nebraska on Tuesday's vote to end debate on the bill, which still must be merged with a companion bill in the House.

One Republican senator, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, said he voted yes to "keep the process moving" but said he might vote against the final bill.

In addition to extending unemployment payments and assistance for the unemployed to buy health insurance, the measure staves off scheduled cuts in the payments doctors receive for treating Medicare patients.

The measure extends a wide range of tax cuts that were set to expire. They include a tax cut for teachers who buy school supplies out of their own pockets, a tax cut for small businesses that pay workers called to active military duty, research and developments tax cuts, and tax cuts for restaurant and small business owners to depreciate improvements in their businesses.

Many Republicans opposed the bill because of its high price tag, which was only partially offset. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said the bill would spend more than Democrats promise will be saved over 10 years if their health care overhaul is passed.

"There's $100 billion in the bill that's on the Senate floor right now that's not paid for," McConnell said before the vote. "So whatever savings they allege will occur under their health care bill over the next 10 years is going to be gone as soon as this bill passes."

Democrats argued that the spending does not need to be offset because much of it is emergency spending to respond to the economic downturn.