The House took another step Thursday in a running political fight over unemployment insurance by ignoring a veto threat from President Bush and easily approving an extension of benefits for idled workers whose aid is running out.
Less than a day after coming up just short in a vote on the same measure, the House approved granting an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits nationwide beyond the standard 26 weeks; the vote was 274-137, the minimum margin needed to override a veto.
Republicans said the result was misleading because a number of lawmakers were absent. They expressed confidence they could sustain a rejection of the bill by Bush if it were to reach the White House.
But in an illustration of the election-year unease among Republicans about the unemployment issue, 49 of them again broke with their party leadership and joined 225 Democrats in backing the proposal, which would also extend benefits even longer in states with unemployment above 6 percent. In those states, benefits would be extended for a total of 26 weeks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blamed the Bush administration for a souring economy that was shedding jobs, and she rejected any insinuation that the extra aid amounted to an incentive to remain out of work. “This isn’t about people sitting on their butts back home and saying, ‘Goodie, I am getting an unemployment check,’ ” Pelosi said. “These people want to provide for their families, and to imply anything else is an insult to these millions of people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”
But Republicans said the measure was too generous, would pad benefits in states that do not have high unemployment and drop a long-standing requirement that applicants must have worked at least 20 weeks to draw benefits. Given that the White House has promised a veto, they said, Democrats appeared to be more interested in a political than a policy fight.
“It’s been about politics every day, all day,” said Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader.
Democrats did move quickly to take advantage of Republican opposition to added benefits at time of economic anxiety. After Wednesday’s narrow defeat of the unemployment measure, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent news releases to the home districts of 20 potentially vulnerable Republicans, upbraiding them for voting “against desperately needed unemployment relief for struggling American families.”
The fate of the unemployment measure remains uncertain in the Senate even without the veto threat hanging over it.
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said Thursday that he would try to win Republican agreement to quickly bring the House measure up for a vote without spending days trying to clear procedural hurdles. Republicans said Thursday they were not certain they would agree to such an arrangement, particularly if Democrats would not allow any attempts to amend the measure.