Any doubt that the 1992 election campaign begins around Labor Day should be dispelled by Congress' overwhelming approval of a Democratic bill to extend unemployment benefits by up to 20 additional weeks. When the $5.8 billion bill lands on President Bush's desk, chances are he will sign it but refuse to declare the "dire emergency" that will bring the bill's provisions into effect.
Mr. Bush seized upon a slight dip in the jobless rate, from 7 percent to 6.8 percent, to proclaim that the economy is looking up, ignoring in the process an unexpected drop of 51,000 available jobs. The president is counting on an unambiguous recovery to guarantee his re-election. The Democrats, though hardly admitting as much, figure a "double-dip" recession or continuing doldrums will improve their chances for the White House.
In the political jockeying over the jobless benefits bill, Democrats belatedly sought to exploit an issue that is one of "theirs." More than 8 million workers are jobless and receiving benefits for the 26-week period provided by current law. Many others, including 1.6 million since last April, have run out their benefits string and are hurting.