- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 29, 2002

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday echoed President Bush's plea that Congress make extending unemployment benefits its "first order of business" when it reconvenes Jan. 7.
Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat, made her call in the Democrats' weekly radio address on the day extended benefits ran out for more than 750,000 jobless Americans.
Mrs. Clinton said she was pleased with Mr. Bush for announcing support for additional unemployment assistance in a radio address he delivered two weeks ago. The president said then that benefits should be retroactive.
Mr. Bush, in his radio address yesterday, said, "One of the first priorities for the new Congress will be an extension of unemployment benefits for Americans who need them."
But Mrs. Clinton said the president waited too long to inform Congress of his position, so it did not act before jobless benefits expired during the holiday season.
"That delay meant that this month millions of Americans are without the money they need to get by, money that would have gone right back into our economy, when spending is at its highest rate all year," Mrs. Clinton said.
The benefits lost at midnight today were the last of a 13-week extension approved in March.
"This year did not have to end on such a sad note" for those people, Mrs. Clinton said.
She also said Mr. Bush has not indicated publicly whether he prefers a "bipartisan plan" passed by the Democrat-led Senate that extends benefits for 13 weeks and covers people who have exhausted all of their benefits or a less generous plan passed by the Republican-controlled House.
The Senate bill, which she said would "provide more than 2 million Americans with the help they needed to pay rent, buy food and purchase clothes for their children," would cost about $5 billion dollars. The House Republican bill, which would cost $900 million, would provide a five-week extension in a few states with high unemployment.
In her radio address yesterday, Mrs. Clinton said the House Republican leadership refused to act on the Senate bill.
"They ran out the clock and went home for the holidays without even allowing a simple vote," she said.
Mrs. Clinton contrasted the Bush administration's limited extension of unemployment benefits with the policies of her husband's administration.
"In the recession of the early 1990s, our country increased benefits five times. Today, our unemployment rate has soared to 6 percent, and Congress and the president have extended benefits only once. And once is not enough."
Her delivery of the radio address came one week after several national polls of Democrats showed Mrs. Clinton the front-runner in the 2004 race for the Democratic nomination for president now that former Vice President Al Gore has said he won't run.
Mrs. Clinton denied that she would be influenced by the polls, saying she intends to serve her six-year U.S. Senate term, which runs through 2006.
But the Associated Press reported yesterday that Democrats wanted to put her in the national spotlight, given her strong showings and because they sense a "political opportunity" as a result of the cutoff of extended unemployment benefits and the weak economy.

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