WASHINGTON -- The Senate, defying President Bush on an issue expected to reverberate in next year's elections, approved by a veto-proof 69-30 margin yesterday a $5.8 billion measure that would extend jobless benefits for as long as 20 more weeks for victims of the lingering recession.
Thirteen Republicans joined 56 Democrats to pass the Senate bill. Only Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a certain supporter of the legislation, was absent.
The House adopted a similar $6.3 billion bill last week by a 283-125vote, also more than the two-thirds majority required to override an anticipated presidential veto.
The Senate legislation, pushed hard by Democratic leaders, now goes to a Senate-House conference to reconcile differences with the House measure. A final version must be approved by both houses before it can be sent to the president.
Maryland Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes both voted for the measure.
"If you ask workers in Maryland, they'll sure tell you the recession isn't over," Senator Mikulski said.
"These are hard-working people who aren't looking for a handout -- just a little help until they get back on the job," she said.
While Democrats were pleased by the Senate's lopsided vote, GOP leaders said the outcome might be different when lawmakers are confronted with the issue of whether to sustain or override the president.
"I believe the veto will be sustained," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. "Maybe it's a political issue, but unemployed workers are not interested in political issues."
Backers of the legislation want to cushion the impact of long-term unemployment by providing extra payments for an estimated 3.5 million workers who will exhaust their regular unemployment benefits, which are paid for 26 weeks.
President Bush has condemned the Democratic plan as too costly and embraced a less-sweeping $3.1 billion measure that would provide as much as 10 more weeks of unemployment compensation and raise the revenue to pay for the additional benefits.
The Senate rejected the Bush-backed plan, voting 57-42 along party lines to kill it before adopting the measure sponsored by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Some Republicans charged that the Democrats were more interestedin advancing a political issue against the president than in getting more benefits into the hands of the long-term jobless, whose ranks have swelled during the current recession.
In August, Mr. Bush signed a similar bill but refused to declare an hTC emergency, thus blocking payment of the extra compensation. The final version of the bill, however, is expected to force a veto that could be politically unpopular.
Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, said the prolonged recession justified federal action to help jobless people make their mortgage and car payments and feed their families.
"The recovery stalls," Mr. Mitchell said. "The economy is in crisis. People are desperate and people are hurting."
Similarly, Sen. Brock Adams, D-Wash., declared: "It's easy for this administration to ignore the unemployed, but it's unconscionable for Congress to do so."
In another partisan clash, the Senate sidetracked a proposal by Sen. Phil Gramm, D-Texas, to lower capital gains taxes, voting 60-39 that it violated the Constitution to originate revenue measures in the Senate rather than in the House.