CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly 7,000 West Virginians and more than 1 million Americans lost emergency unemployment insurance benefits when they expired at the end of December.
Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, both D-W.Va., are supporting efforts to extend that unemployment insurance for 90 days.
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 60-37 to limit debate on the three-month extension, giving the legislation a surprising victory.
"While our economy continues to improve, it should be a top priority to put forward sensible policies that can both stimulate growth and provide critical support to people as they pursue job opportunities," Rockefeller said on Tuesday.
"Congress never should have let emergency unemployment insurance expire. Without this safety net, families are now having to make even more impossible choices, like deciding how to heat their homes, put food on the table and pay for a doctor's visit -- all while keeping up a full-time job search, which can also be costly.
"I'm glad the Senate was able to advance this important legislation that will help those who are trying to get back on their feet," Rockefeller said.
During a telephone press conference on Tuesday, Manchin said he voted for the extension. But he believes Congress must find a way to pay for that extension.
"It took 60 votes, including six Republicans," Manchin said. "But how do you pay for it? For a three-month extension, it will cost $6.5 billion. For a full year, it would cost $25 billion or $26 billion."
That vote makes it possible for legislation to extend unemployment insurance to come up for debate and a vote in the Senate.
Manchin said, "I am looking for a reasonable 'pay-for.' One idea is ending dual eligibility, when you have a person hurt on the job who is receiving disability and unemployment benefits.
"If you are not allowed to draw off of both, it would be a $5 billion savings."
Manchin said he will not vote for any long-term increase in unemployment eligibility if the legislation doesn't include a "pay-for" provision.
Manchin believes the Senate and the House might reach an agreement on unemployment benefits by next week.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is working to reach that agreement with Reps. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.