- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

House Republicans on Wednesday blocked a Democratic effort to fast-track a measure to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, but Democrats vow to call another vote on the bill Thursday.

“We just had a very sad vote,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. “We are not going to let this stand.”

The House voted 279-144 in favor of the measure - three votes shy of the two-thirds needed to pass. All 230 Democrats who voted supported the measure, while Republicans broke 144-49 against it.

Democratic leadership included the bill on the “suspension” calendar, which allows bills to avoid facing amendments under an expedited process but at the price of the two-thirds requirement.

The measure would award 13 additional weeks of unemployment compensation to people who have used up their benefits.

House Republican leaders objected to the measure in part because it would have allowed recipients to receive benefits by working as little as two weeks in some states, waving the 20-week federal minimum established in 1981.

“To ask taxpayers to give 39 weeks of unemployment (benefits) to someone who may have worked two weeks is just not a reasonable thing to do,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

The Senate last month inserted the unemployment measure into a larger war spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but House Democratic leaders instead decided on separate unemployment-benefits bill.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill, saying that the jobless rate, which increased to 5.5 percent in May from 5.0 percent in April, is below levels historically relied on to justify a federally financed extension of unemployment benefits.

But supporters of the measure point out that the May jobless rate increase was the biggest monthly jump in more than two decades.

Thursday’s vote is expected to come under normal House rules, meaning the measure would pass on a simple majority. But Democrats are keen to pass the measure with at least a two-thirds majority, making it “veto proof.”

“It is not in good conscience or policy to walk away from taking this action simply because we lack three Republican votes,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We hope in the next 24 hours our Republican colleagues who voted against this legislation, in lock-step with President Bush, will reconsider.”

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