House approves package extending jobless benefits Quick enactment is expected

February 25, 1993|By William J. Eaton | William J. Eaton,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Taking the first step toward the enactment of President Clinton's economic package, the House decisively approved yesterday a $5.7 billion extension of unemployment benefits for about 2 million people whose benefits will expire this year.

The measure, approved 254 to 161, is expected to be passed quickly by the Senate and sent to the White House for Mr. Clinton's promised signature. Enactment would continue a program that was extended during the Bush administration but was to expire March 6.

Early passage of the legislation was an exception to an agreement Tuesday by Democratic congressional leaders and the president to defer action on Mr. Clinton's $16.3 billion stimulus package until lawmakers approve counterbalancing spending cuts and tax increases.

Sponsors of the bill said the emergency designation that permitted the vote was justified.

"There is real pain out there for many Americans," said Rep. David E. Bonior, a Michigan Democrat who is House majority whip. He cited widespread layoffs by auto, aerospace, electronic and retail companies.

Under the bill, jobless workers in six hard-hit states -- Alaska, California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia -- would be eligible for an additional 26 weeks of benefits. Unemployed workers in the remaining 44 states, which have lower unemployment rates, would be eligible for a 20-week extension.

Republicans denounced the bill as fiscally irresponsible, arguing that it would increase the federal budget deficit by billions of dollars.

But Democrats rallied around the president, saying that a $3.5 billion surplus from provisions that accompanied previous jobless-benefit extensions would finance most of the new package.

The president's proposed spending cuts, they said, would finance the remainder.

"This is the first step of the president's economic program, and we have an obligation to pass it," argued Rep. Robert T. Matsui, a California Democrat.

But Rep. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, pointed out that three similar extensions that passed during the Bush administration were offset by revenue-raising provisions. "Now we're not going to pay for it, and that is not the change America thought it was voting for," Mr. Santorum said.

In the end, 226 Democrats were joined by 27 Republicans and one independent in favor of the bill; 141 Republicans and 20 Democrats voted against it.

Republicans were united in an earlier attempt to send the legislation back to the House Ways and Means Committee so ways could be found to pay for the benefits. But the Republican proposal was rejected, 229 to 186.

Mr. Santorum sounded a Republican theme when he attacked the bill's failure to pay for the benefits that it provided. "The first step of the Clinton economic program -- more deficit, more spending, more irresponsibility and more of the same," he said.

The bill would extend the deadline for jobless workers to file for emergency extension of their benefits, from March 6 to Oct. 2, and authorize payment of extra compensation through Jan. 15.

Ultimately, about 2 million people are expected to benefit from the legislation, the House Ways and Means Committee estimated.

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