In light of the surging unemployment rate, House Democratic leaders intend to bring stand-alone legislation to the floor this week that would extend unemployment insurance benefits. The proposed legislation, approved by the House Ways and Means Committee in April, is similar to a provision included in the war supplemental spending package. Under the provision, 13 weeks of unemployment benefits would be provided in every state to workers who exhaust the 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits. In states with higher levels of unemployment, up to an additional 13 weeks would be available, for a total of 26 weeks of extended benefits. The provision is expected to cost $11 billion over 10 years. A spokesman for Majority Leader Hoyer said today the House could act as soon as Wednesday on the unemployment measure. It is possible the provision will remain in the supplemental package to ensure that it reaches President Bush, according to Democratic leadership sources.
Bush has threatened to veto the supplemental package approved by the Senate last month, which includes the unemployment provision and provides funding for several domestic programs unrelated to the war. House Democratic leaders intend to scale back the domestic spending and considered dropping the unemployment extension provision to try to win Republican support and avoid a Bush veto. But the recent rise in the unemployment rate and increased pressure from labor groups like the AFL-CIO and labor-friendly members of Congress, such as Senate Majority Leader Reid, could cause House Democratic leaders to reconsider the strategy. Over the weekend, staff from the office of House Appropriations Chairman David Obey and OMB met to discuss the package. The House is expected to take up the supplemental package Wednesday or Thursday, the aides said.
The decision to bring the Ways and Means Committee's unemployment insurance bill to the House floor came late Friday after the Department of Labor reported that the nation's unemployment rate had risen from 5.0 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May -- the biggest monthly increase since February 1986. That news "highlights again the need for an extension of unemployment benefits to those who have been unable to find new jobs," House Speaker Pelosi said Friday in a joint news release with Hoyer and Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel. "In the face of the biggest jump in the unemployment percentage in two decades, and huge job losses in the airline and auto industry among others, America's workers and families can wait no longer, and neither will the Congress. This bill will come to the floor of the House."
This article appears in the June 14, 2008 edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.