Unemployment Benefits Succeed In House; Bill Moves to Senate
WASHINGTON — THE Unites States House of Representatives, rejecting the Bush administration's insistence that the recovering economy makes the bill unnecessary, passed a new Democrat-sponsored measure to provide up to 20 additional weeks of unemployment benefits for jobless workers.The Senate is likely to pick up the bill today, which was passed in the House Tuesday on a 283 to 125 vote. Just before its summer recess Congress sent President Bush a similar bill extending jobless benefits for up to 20 weeks. Bush signed that measure, but did not issue the emergency declaration that was needed under terms of last year's budget agreement to provide the $5.3 billion funding. Bush said the proposal would "bust the budget," adding that the additional jobless benefits are not needed because the recession is ending. The new bill also includes provisions for at least five additional weeks of benefits for those workers who already have exhausted their benefits, so long as the national unemployment rate is at least 6 percent. The jobless rate fell slightly to 6.8 percent in July and stalled there in August, with 8.5 million workers jobless. Unlike the previous bill, which relied solely on the president's approving an emergency declaration, the new measure specifies that its enactment would exempt the plan from the budget agreement's pay-as-you-go requirement. The president would have the options of declaring a budget emergency or using the $8 billion surplus currently in the unemployment insurance trust fund to pay for the extended benefits. House Speaker Thomas Foley (D) of Washington, meeting with reporters shortly before the final vote, disputed claims the recession was ending. At best there is "an extremely low, slow, inching beginning of a possible recovery. And I'm not sure about that," he said. The Democrats deride Bush for supporting emergency foreign aid but refusing to help unemployed Americans. Republicans argue the solution to unemployment lies in boosting the economy by passing the GOP's proposed "economic growth act."