Reporting from Washington — After months of wrangling, the Senate on Wednesday approved a $138-billion spending bill that would extend jobless benefits, help states pay for Medicaid and continue a bundle of tax measures designed to stimulate the economy.
The measure -- which must still be reconciled with a version passed in the House -- also extends tax cuts for college tuition, the program that helps laid-off workers keep their job-based health insurance, and tax breaks for research and development that have long been important to the nation's high-tech industries.
In addition, the bill delays a threatened 21% cutback in the payments doctors receive for treating Medicare patients.
The vote came as Democrats, increasingly anxious about the fall elections, were stepping up their efforts to deal with the high level of unemployment.
"Extending these tax cuts and the critical safety-net programs in this bill will give businesses the tax certainty they need to move forward and families the support they need to make ends meet," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.