By David Rogers
The House approved extended jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed Thursday, with Democrats capturing a narrow two-thirds majority that could boost chances for action in the Senate.
Thirteen Republican absentees contributed to the victory, but the 274-137 vote was a lesson in the advantages of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) backing up for a moment and avoiding the short-cuts that failed just 24 hours before.
Forty-nine Republicans Thursday joined in support of the package, which promises up to 13 additional weeks in jobless benefits to workers in all states and a total of 26 in states with a seasonally adjusted 6 percent unemployment rate -- well above the national average.
The benefit paid would equal the amount paid under regular unemployment compensation, or an average of $290 a week, and would provide at least temporary aid to workers who have already exhausted the 26 weeks typically available at the state level. More than 3 million workers are expected to fall into this category before the program expires next spring, and the five-year cost is estimated to be $13.68 billion.
The White House has argued that the program is too costly and should be targeted to just high unemployment states. But the administration hasn't ruled out some relief, and House Republicans offered their own plan, which they said would save at least $1 billion by targeting the extra assistance to about 22 states either with an unemployment rate of 5 percent or whose jobless rate has jumped by 20 percent in the past year.
This failed 243-170 given the Democratic opposition, but it underscores the appetite in both parties for some action after the national jobless rate jumped to 5.5 percent in May.
Pelosi had tried to move the same bill Wednesday, but under an expedited procedure that provoked some resentment and left her just short of a two-thirds majority. Thursday she came back and followed a more conventional route and also threw herself more into the floor debate.
“This isn't about people sitting on their butts back home saying, 'Gee, I'm getting an unemployment check,'' Pelosi snapped back at House Republicans. “These people want to provide for their families. To imply anything else is an insult to millions of people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”