- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

House Democrats asked the president and Republican leaders yesterday to reconvene the House immediately and pass legislation that would extend unemployment benefits for those set to lose them a few days after Christmas.
Incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said that "it would only take a few minutes" for Congress to "restore the merry in Christmas" for these Americans. About 800,000 people will lose their already-extended unemployment benefits Dec 28.
"It's simply an issue that defines what your priorities are," said the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, David R. Obey of Wisconsin, who added that there was a "spectacular sense of irresponsibility" in Congress not extending the benefits further. "I thought that we were supposed to be in an era of compassionate conservatism."
The Senate and House passed differing bills in the fall to extend unemployment benefits, and no agreement was reached before they left town. Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat, said "strong-willed Republican members of the House killed" the Senate bill in conference.
The Senate measure would have extended the Temporary Extended Unemployment Compensation program through the end of March 2003. That would have given those already enrolled in the program 12 more weeks of extended benefits, new enrollees in all states as many as 13 weeks of extended benefits and new enrollees in high-unemployment states as many as 26 weeks of extended benefits.
The House passed a narrower, Republican version that would have extended the benefits through January for current enrollees as well as new enrollees in high-unemployment states.
The Democrats want the House to agree immediately to the more generous Senate bill. They also plan to push their own proposal next year, which is heftier than the Senate-passed bill.
In a radio address Dec. 14, President Bush said he supports extending unemployment benefits and wants Congress to make it "a first order of business" when it reconvenes. "Why not do it today?" Mrs. Pelosi asked.
"It is very unfortunate that Congress failed to resolve their differences; the president had urged them to do so," White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday. "The president looks forward to working with Congress to get the job done."
House Republicans said the Senate plan is too expensive estimated to cost $5 billion compared with the Republicans' $1 billion plan and that it doesn't make sense to extend unemployment benefits across the board, even in states with extremely low unemployment rates.
"We're trying to deliver help to unemployed workers that is both timely and targeted," said Christin Tinsworth, spokeswoman for the Republican-led House Ways and Means Committee.
A spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the House would not reconvene at this time but that Republicans are working on another proposal to extend unemployment benefits. They hope to move on that early next year.


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