The struggle in Washington over whether to renew expired benefits for the long-term unemployed is as much about providing aid to 1.3 million out-of-work Americans as it is about drawing the first political line of an election year.

Tuesday's unexpected vote in the Senate removing one obstacle to a three-month extension of aid attracted the approval of six Republicans. That bipartisan support illustrates the real-life and political pressures on some GOP lawmakers, including those from states with unemployment above the national average of 7 percent.

Still, the legislation's outcome is uncertain as Democrats, backed by the White House, and Republicans remain sharply divided over whether the cost of the $6.4 billion program extension should be added to the deficit or paid for with spending cuts.