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Senate could vote soon on jobless benefits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - With U.S. unemployment rising, lawmakers hope to resolve a logjam this week on a measure that would extend jobless benefits for those who already may have exhausted them, Senate aides said on Tuesday.

Congressional leaders had hoped to extend benefits before the end of September, when some 400,000 recipients were expected to use them up. But while the House of Representatives last month passed a bill, jobless benefits legislation stalled in the Senate due to a dispute over how many workers should be eligible.

While some details remained unresolved, the measure could come up for a vote in the Senate within days, said an aide to Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who argued that the legislation was too narrowly targeted.

Shaheen objected to legislation passed by the House that would extend benefits for jobless workers only in states where the unemployment rate is above 8.5 percent. The unemployment rate was 6.8 percent in August in Shaheen's home state of New Hampshire.

A vote in the Senate could come by the end of the week, according to Senate aides who asked not to be identified.

A compromise measure drafted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus would give workers in hard-hit states an additional 13 weeks of benefits, while those in states like New Hampshire that have not suffered as badly would get an extra four weeks.

Shaheen hopes to broaden that to an extra 17 weeks for jobless workers in all states, an aide to the senator said. Both versions would extend a temporary tax on employers for at least two years to avoid adding to the budget deficit.

Unemployed workers typically are eligible for up to 26 weeks of payments from the government as they look for another job. Congress already has extended that limit twice to help those who lost their jobs in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Some workers are now eligible for up to 79 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Once the Senate passes a jobless benefits measure, senators would have to iron out differences with the House-passed bill in a conference committee. The version hammered out by the conference committee would then have to be passed by the House and Senate before President Barack Obama could sign it into law.

The national unemployment rate rose to 9.8 percent in September, the highest figure since 1983, and is expected to remain high into next year even as the economy recovers. More than one-third of those unemployed have been out of work for more than six months.