WASHINGTON - The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to offer up to 20 more weeks of unemployment benefits to those who have been out of work a long time, after weeks of delay in which hundreds of thousands of Americans exhausted their government aid.
The measure will increase to 99 weeks, or nearly two years, the maximum length of time that a jobless worker can get benefits in some states.
As early as Thursday, the House is expected to approve the Senate version, which differs from the measure it passed six weeks ago, so the legislation can be signed into law by President Obama.
The Democrats feel an urgency to act now because the monthly labor report that comes out Friday is expected to show that the nation's unemployment rate in October continued to be at or above 10 percent. Also, more than 600,000 workers had run out of benefits at the end of October, according to the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy group.
The Senate added two unrelated provisions to extend and liberalize tax breaks that were in this year's $787 billion economic stimulus package.
One would continue for five months a popular $8,000 credit for many first-time home buyers, which was to expire Nov. 30, and create a $6,500 credit for some homeowners who want to buy a new residence. The other would allow businesses to deduct losses from their income in five profitable years instead of two; the stimulus law had limited the break to small businesses.
The Senate's 98-to-0 vote disguised the partisan divisiveness of past weeks. After Democrats settled their internal differences a month ago, Republicans objected to acting until Democrats allowed votes on amendments opposing illegal immigration, the liberal organization Acorn and the financial rescue program. The Democrats refused, saying that Republicans were trying to score political points.
By this week, pressure to act was building from states with double-digit unemployment rates. One Republican senator, George V. Voinovich of Ohio, suggested impatience with his colleagues' demands.
"This is serious business, and we ought to get on with it," Mr. Voinovich said in an interview. "We've got to keep these families together so they don't fall through the cracks. I mean, this is what keeps them going so they get through this period."
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to end the filibuster, 97 to 1. The holdout was Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, which has the nation's fifth-highest unemployment rate, 11.6 percent. Hours later, he joined supporters on the vote to pass the bill.
A spokesman for Mr. DeMint, Wesley Denton, said, "He's disappointed it is being paid for by increasing burdens on small businesses that create jobs instead of using unspent stimulus funds."
The tax provision that would offset the $2.4 billion cost of the extra benefits so they do not add to the budget deficit is a longstanding one. The bill would extend a 33-year-old surcharge on the tax that employers pay to finance unemployment compensation. First imposed in 1976 as a temporary levy, the surcharge has been $14 a worker since 1983.
The Senate bill would extend benefits by 14 weeks nationwide for those whose relief has run out, and up to 20 weeks in states - 26 currently - where the unemployment rate is over 8.5 percent.
The House-passed bill would limit the extended benefits to those states with the highest joblessness but Senate Democrats in other states pushed for a nationwide extension. The effort for the nationwide extension was led by Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, where the unemployment rate is 7.2 percent.
The nation's unemployment compensation system is a patchwork of state programs; federal benefits are available when state aid runs out, typically after 26 weeks. Reflecting the severity of the recession, the number of workers who have been out of a job longer than that comprise about a third of the total unemployed - the highest share since data collection began in 1948, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal policy group.