The House will again take up legislation today that would extend unemployment benefits for as much as 26 weeks after the bill came three votes shy of winning the two-thirds majority needed for approval Wednesday.
The bill, which was on the suspension calendar and needed a two-thirds majority to pass, failed on a 279-144 vote. All 230 Democrats present voted in favor of the bill, along with 49 Republicans.
"We are not going to let this stand," said House Majority Leader Hoyer, who argued that the extensions are needed to help Americans get through the economic downturn.
"We expect to have that bill on the floor tomorrow," said Hoyer speaking at a briefing after the vote. "It is not ... proper policy for us to walk away from taking this action simply because we lacked three Republican votes."
The bill will be considered under a rule today on the floor, and will only need a simple majority to pass.
Action on the bill comes after the Labor Department reported Friday that the unemployment rate had surged to 5.5 percent in May from 5 percent in April -- the largest monthly increase since February 1986.
The House measure, overwhelmingly approved by the House Ways and Means Committee in April, is similar to a provision included in the war supplemental spending package approved by the Senate last month.
But House Democratic leaders want to try to pass unemployment insurance as a stand-alone bill, which would help rein in the package's cost and possibly win Republican support and avoid a veto of the package.
The supplemental also includes $165 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the remainder of FY08 and part of FY09.
If passed by the House, the unemployment benefits bill would go to the Senate, where Democratic leaders intend to take it straight to the Senate floor. But a Republican filibuster is expected kill the measure, which would leave the war supplemental bill as the likely vehicle for the unemployment extension.
"It is not what we had hoped," one Democratic leadership aide said about the vote. "We'll keep trying, but ultimately this is clearly going to only be possible on the supplemental."
The vote on the bill came after OMB said Wednesday that President Bush would veto the measure, noting the best way to help workers is to foster an economic environment that creates jobs by passing pending free-trade agreements and making permanent the president's tax cuts that will expire over the next two years.
OMB added that, historically, the 5.5 percent unemployment rate is low, but said the White House could support legislation that would offer a 13-week extension to high-unemployment states alone.
The legislation would provide 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits in every state to workers who exhaust the 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits, and, in states with higher levels of unemployment, an additional 13 weeks would be available, for a total of 26 weeks of extended benefits.
The bill defines high unemployment as a seasonally adjusted 6 percent total unemployment rate or a 4 percent insured unemployment rate.
During House debate on the bill, Republicans argued that the measure would change long-standing policy by removing a requirement that workers must have worked for at least 20 weeks before being eligible for 12 months of benefits.
Although they indicated that GOP lawmakers would be allowed to vote as needed, House Republican leaders were whipping the bill in the hours before the vote in an attempt to ensure they have the votes to sustain a veto.
But GOP leadership sources noted there was a need to give passes to a number of lawmakers in states where unemployment is running at over 4 percent, though one aide noted that the Conference has never been in lockstep on this issue.
Such states include prominent battlegrounds in the November elections like Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Ohio, Nevada and Michigan.
Although the measure fell short of the two-thirds needed to override a presidential veto, GOP leadership aides expressed confidence they could get the extra two votes required should the Senate approve the stand-alone bill, which is not expected.
Republican sources argued that even when the House bill passes today, what is important is the Democrats fell short of being able to effectively force the White House's hand on the issue.
This article appears in the June 14, 2008, edition of NJ Daily.