Helping the jobless

October 07, 1991|By New York Times

THE DISTRESS of America's long-term unemployed offers a strong argument for reworking last year's federal budget pact. But unless the Democrats are prepared to brace the overall budget issue head on, their $6.4 billion bill to extend unemployment benefits won't fly.

President Bush and Congress agreed in good faith to abide by specific caps on defense and non-defense spending, and not to increase either category without offsetting cuts or new revenues. The Democratic unemployment insurance bill approved by Congress provides up to 20 weeks of additional coverage beyond the basic 26, and expires next July.

The proper way to pay for it would be to raise the tax employers already pay for the basic program. The president favors fewer additional weeks, and other funding. But the Democrats' bill skirts the issue by declaring an emergency, not subject to pay-as-you-go. With the emergency declaration now built in, Bush says he will veto the new bill. House support for this bill was easily enough to override the veto, but the Senate's majority was two votes short.

The larger issue -- renegotiating the budget pact in the light of fundamentally changed circumstances -- will take time.

The immediate issue is to provide for the unemployed within the existing rules. The worst of the recession may be past, but with new layoffs coming every day, the outlook for workers laid off months ago remains bleak. If the president's veto sticks, they will still need help.

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