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GOP senator relents, OKs action on jobless bill

WASHINGTON - A Republican who had been stubbornly blocking a stopgap measure to extend help for the jobless relented last night under withering assaults from Democrats and dwindling support within his own party.

Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky had been single-handedly blocking the $10-billion measure, causing federal furloughs and threatening the unemployment benefits of hundreds of thousands of people. He was seeking to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so it wouldn't add to the deficit, but his move sparked a political tempest that has subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically.

A spokesman for Bunning said he would now permit a vote. The bill passed the House last week and is likely to be signed into law immediately by President Barack Obama so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work Wednesday. They're likely to be awarded back pay once the program is revived.

A law that provided stopgap road funding and longer and more generous unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless expired Monday. Without the extension, about 200,000 jobless people would have lost federal benefits this week alone, according to the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project.

The measure to be voted on would extend through March several programs, including the jobless aid, federal highway funding and help for doctors facing cuts in Medicare payments. It would give Congress time to pass a yearlong fix.

Earlier Tuesday Bunning objected to a request by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, to pass a 30-day extension of jobless benefits and other expired measures. When asked if Bunning was hurting the Republican Party, Collins said, "He's hurting the American people."

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