WASHINGTON -- President Bush, setting up another confrontation with congressional Democrats, vetoed yesterday a bill that would have extended unemployment compensation for up to 20 weeks to millions of jobless Americans who have exhausted their benefits.
Mr. Bush called the $6.4 billion bill "a poorly designed, unnecessarily expensive program." He signed a similar bill two months ago but refused to take steps to implement it.
Yesterday, he urged Congress to pass a $2.5 billion Republican alternative instead.
Within minutes of the veto, which had been widely anticipated and decried in advance by his opponents, supporters of the measure assailed Mr. Bush and turned the action into a political issue that went beyond the problem of unemployment.
House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., accused Mr. Bush of trying to minimize publicity by vetoing the bill on a day when the nation's attention was riveted on televised hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee's inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.
"George Bush took advantage of this day to turn his back on millions of jobless Americans who have no way to buy groceries for their kids," Mr. Gephardt said in a statement.
He vowed that the House, which passed the bill with enough votes to ensure the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto, would tryto override. The Senate vote was two votes shy of the needed margin.
Mr. Bush used his veto message to press for congressional passage of an alternative offered by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan. "I would gladly sign into law responsible legislation that does not threaten the economic recovery and its associated job creation," he said.
Mr. Bush contended that the Democrats' bill, in not providing offsetting budget savings to pay for the measure, "violates essential elements" of the budget accord that Congress and the White Houseagreed to last year.
Mr. Dole's bill would provide up to 10 weeks of additional benefits for workers who had exhausted their basic six months of jobless pay. The money would come from auctioning off unused radio-telephone frequencies and by extending a program to recover unpaid federal college loans.
Democrats contend that those financing methods would not provide enough money to pay for even the Dole measure, which is less expensive than theirs.
They portrayed Mr. Bush as caring more for the rich than for the hard-pressed working people left jobless by a recession during a Republican administration.
Mr. Dole, who was on hand for the veto with House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., and Labor Secretary Lynn Martin, said Mr. Bush's action "has forced the Democrats' hand. Now we'll see if they are truly interested in extended benefits."