- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

The House overwhelmingly passed a bill extending unemployment benefits and offering modest incentives for economic growth yesterday and sent it to the Senate, where it could be voted on today.

The bill passed the House 417-3, with Democrats providing the dissenting votes. Senate Democratic leaders put it on a fast track to a vote, but said they needed time to examine exactly what was in the package before final approval.

President Bush said yesterday afternoon he would sign this bill and urged the Senate to act quickly on it.

"The House did the right thing today, and the Senate now needs to act. The House passed a very good bill. It's a bill that not only takes care of unemployed workers, it is a bill that has got some economic stimulus as a major part of it," Mr. Bush said. "The Senate needs to act and get the bill to my desk. And I look forward to signing it."

In the six months since the September 11 attacks, 1.6 million people have exhausted their unemployment benefits. The bill would extend their benefits for 13 more weeks.

The bill also extends several tax breaks that were to expire, and includes rules for businesses to depreciate the value of newly bought equipment. That, the bill's backers hope, will boost purchases of new computers and the like, providing a quick boost to the economy.

The bill is the latest go-around in a five-month fight between both chambers and both parties.

House Republican leaders said they were disappointed the bill didn't include more tax cuts to foster economic growth, and blamed Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, for blocking three previous bills the House passed that included those tax incentives.

"Senator Daschle continued to insist we never do more than the least we could do. We finally, I think, have come up with a configuration that will do some good in job creation for the American people," said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican. "I suppose we all should remind ourselves we're taught as children, 'Be thankful for small favors.' Senator Daschle, we will appreciate it if you will accept this iteration of the least you can do that takes you a little bit further than nothing."

Mr. Daschle said this is the first bill he considers acceptable.

"I'm very pleased that they have chosen to follow a path that many of us were suggesting long ago. It's overdue and awfully late, but I am encouraged that at least within that package are things that Democrats could be supportive of," he said.

Still, he and House Democrats say they would prefer that the bill include provisions to extend health care coverage to unemployed workers.

Both sides in the House debate promised they would be back soon to push for what was left out of the bill.

Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said next week Democrats will initiate a drive to secure 218 signatures on a petition to force a vote on expanding health care benefits for unemployed workers through COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985.

Republicans, meanwhile, said they would revisit some of the tax cuts, including for health care, they had included in earlier versions of the stimulus bill.


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