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Jobless claims bill OK'd by Senate

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Senate on Wednesday approved a wide-ranging bill that would push back the deadline to file for extended unemployment insurance until year-end and extends dozens of expired tax breaks.

The bill, passed by a 62-36 vote, is the latest job creation effort to go before lawmakers, though it contains virtually no new initiatives to boost employment. Its price tag has wavered between $140 billion and $150 billion, which is partially offset. Its next stop is the House, where a quick passage is anything but assured.

Lawmakers have come under pressure from both the White House and unemployed Americans to do more to spur hiring. But after many speeches, officials have enacted little to help the nearly 15 million looking for work.

The latest efforts -- which include a $15 billion job creation initiative that the Senate will take up next -- don't sit well with members from either side of the aisle. Some say that more must be done to boost employment. Others, particularly Congressional Republicans, have voiced concerns about adding to the deficit.

While the House passed a comprehensive $154 billion job creation bill in December, the Senate has opted to address the unemployment issue with a series of smaller measures. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he will soon unveil additional efforts, including those aimed at small businesses.

In this bill

The bill passed Wednesday would push back the deadline to file for extended jobless benefits and the federal subsidy for COBRA health insurance until Dec. 31.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. These federal benefits, worth up to 73 weeks, are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

The measure would also extend dozens of tax provisions -- including allowing teachers to deduct education expenses and providing businesses a research and development credit -- that expired at the end of last year.

"Getting Americans back to work is a critical priority and extending the tax cuts and benefits in this bill will help build the stable environment we need for job creation," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., who co-sponsored the bill.

It would also temporarily halt a 21% reduction in Medicare physician reimbursement rates. And it would send another $25 billion to the states to help them fund their Medicaid programs for another six months.

The bill also extends two Recovery Act provisions for small businesses. It provides $354 million to continue funding the increased Small Business Administration guarantee and fee waiver through year's end.

Next up

Next up is a $15 billion bill that would:

--Exempt employers from Social Security payroll taxes on new hires who were unemployed.

--Fund highway and transit programs through 2010.

--Extend a tax break for business that spend money on capital investments, such as equipment purchases.

--Expand the use of the Build America Bonds program, which helps states and municipalities fund capital construction projects.

The Senate already passed this measure, but then the House amended it last week, sending it back to the Senate. Should it pass again, this time unchanged, the bill would go to President Obama for his signature. To top of page

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