Four Republicans -- including newly elected Scott Brown of Massachusetts, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine -- joined 56 Senate Democrats to allow the $9 billion jobless benefits bill to come up for discussion, The New York Times reported.
Conservatives contend any additional federal spending should be accompanied by corresponding spending cuts. But given the current high unemployment rate of 9.7 percent as the country edges out of deep recession, Democrats say adding to the federal deficit is warranted to help out about 200,000 out-of-work people whose benefits have expired.
"Let us help the families who are struggling in this difficult economic time," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., countered that Washington needs to exercise the same fiscal restraint as average Americans.
"We refuse to do the same things that families across this country do every day and that's make a choice about priorities," Coburn said.
If the legislation reaches President Barack Obama's desk, it would continue the benefits only through early May, giving lawmakers time to reach agreement on a longer-term fix.