WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama signed a bill Thursday that restores unemployment benefits to 2.5 million Americans. “Americans who are fighting to find a good job and support their families will finally get the support they need to get back on their feet during these tough economic times,” he said in a statement.
The bill retroactively awards unemployment benefits to the 2.5 million Americans whose benefits expired in late May and early June and ensures that jobless checks continue through the end of November.
The House of Representatives voted 272-152 on Thursday to pass the bill, and the Senate passed it by a 59-39 vote on Wednesday.
The bill underwent fierce debate in the Senate, where Republicans stalled the bill for weeks, saying they wanted its $34 billion cost to be offset before they added their support.
Republicans had proposed that stimulus funds be used to pay for the bill. Democrats argued that it was an emergency measure, accusing Republicans of departing with their traditional support of unemployment benefits.
“This is the first time we’ve have a stand-off on this issue,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said. “We’ve always had bipartisan for support for extending unemployment compensation. … I don’t know where this is coming from.”
“We do want them to have unemployment,” Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ala., said of the unemployed. “We’re thinking about the habits of a Congress that continually … borrows against the prosperity and well-being of the generations that follow us,” he said.
After the bill signing, Obama called for Congress to pass small business tax cuts and lending measures.
“Small businesses are the engine of job growth,” Obama said, “and measures to cut their taxes and make lending available should not be held hostage to partisan tactics like those that unconscionably held up unemployment insurance.”