By DAVID ESPO
AP Special Correspondent
WASHINGTON (AP) - Legislation to resurrect benefits for the long-term unemployed took an essential step Wednesday toward likely Senate approval, despite complaints from Republicans that Democrats refuse to allow changes designed to stimulate job creation.
The vote was 61-38, one more than the 60 needed for the bill to advance toward likely approval in the next several days.
The bill would renew benefits for the long-term unemployed, generally those who have been off the job for more than 26 weeks. An estimated 2.7 million workers have been affected since the program expired at the end of last year.
Democrats began a drive to renew the program in January.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that in addition to helping the long-term unemployed, the legislation would be a boon to the economy. The benefits go "right to the families...right to the local grocery store, right to the local gas station for repairs on the care, to pay for daycare that might be necessary for children," he said.
But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas., said Republicans had filed dozens of proposed changes that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has refused to permit to come to a vote. Among them are proposals to "repeal job-killing taxes (and) improve congressional safeguards against over-regulation," he said.
Despite the criticism, Democrats agreed earlier to enough changes to the measure to attract the support of five Republicans, enough to assure 60 votes.
Among them was an agreement to find cuts elsewhere in the budget to offset the bill's $9.7 billion cost over a decade, a change that will prevent the legislation from raising deficits.
Other changes would prevent millionaires from receiving jobless benefits and would improve programs that help the long-term unemployed find new jobs.
The legislation would re-instate the benefits for five months, retroactive to last Dec. 28.
Senate passage would clear the way for a tough battle in the House, where majority Republicans are generally opposed to renewing the program.
Voting to advance the bill were 53 Democrats, two independents and Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire; Susan Collins of Maine; Dean Heller of Nevada; Mark Kirk of Illinois; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio.
All votes to block the bill were cast by Republicans.