- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

President Bush signed a bill yesterday to extend federal unemployment benefits just hours after the measure was overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives.
House approval, on a vote of 416-4, came quickly a day after the Republican-controlled Senate unanimously passed the measure.
In a meeting at the White House with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, Mr. Bush said the legislation "should bring some comfort to those of our fellow citizens who need extra help during the time in which they try to find a job."
The House last night passed two "continuing resolutions" by voice vote to fund most federal agencies at 2002 levels through the end of the month. Senate passage is expected today.
The resolutions are necessary because the Democrat-led Senate did not pass a budget that reconciled with the House-passed budget before adjourning last year.
With the president's signature on the unemployment benefits bill, 750,000 people who ran out of compensation eligibility Dec. 28 will not miss checks. More than 1.6 million more will run out of benefits some time in the next six months.
"Today the line is drawn," said Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Mr. Thomas chided Democrats who waged a floor fight to include more benefits.
"I believe this is the right thing to do," Mr. Thomas said during the floor debate. "It is absolutely essential that we do it today rather than argue."
The $7.3 billion package allows 2.4 million people who have run out of or will run out of state benefits to receive federal compensation. Funding for the extension, which ends June 1, will come from the unemployment insurance trust fund, which has cash reserves of about $24 billion.
Democrats complained that the bill was not generous enough because it didn't include coverage for 1 million more workers who have already exhausted their state and federal benefits. Republicans countered that such complaints weren't heard last year, when the Democrats controlled the Senate and passed a nearly identical bill.
"[This bill] is much more far-reaching than what the Democrats offered earlier, and the legislation that we actually passed here last December," said House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican. "This is a continuation of a very generous program, and we would hope that people start to go out and look and find jobs. That's what this is all about."
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, sought to offer an amendment extending the existing benefits for 26 weeks, but it was turned aside on a procedural vote. He characterized the House Republicans as the "bad cop" in the debate and the White House as the "compassionate cop."
"How does the bad cop just cut off debate?" Mr. Rangel asked. "All we're saying is can't we lose with dignity? Can't we lose with compassion? No, my colleagues. The bad cop is in charge here, and the compassionate cop remains in the White House."
House Republican leaders bristled at such characterizations.
Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, pointed out that the newly unemployed already can sign up for 26 weeks of benefits under law, and the extension passed yesterday allows for 13 more weeks.
"People can get nine months to look for a job and be compensated for it," Mr. DeLay said. "What the Democrats' problem is, is nothing is good enough for them. In fact, I would venture to guess that they would have unlimited unemployment compensation so somebody could stay out of work for the rest of their lives if [Democrats] had their way."
The unemployment rate matched an eight-year high of 6 percent in November. Figures for December will be released by the Labor Department tomorrow.
The House needed to pass two continuing resolutions because only two spending bills one for defense and one for military construction were passed in the last Congress.
The first resolution maintains domestic spending at 2002 levels through the end of January to give appropriators in the House and Senate time to work on the 11 unfinished spending bills. The second resolution adds $2.5 billion in defense spending for the war against terrorism.
Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he will move forward quickly to settle the 11 spending bills not passed by the last Congress. He said he hopes the House and Senate can come to an agreement on the delayed 2003 budget before Mr. Bush's State of the Union address Jan. 28.
"One of the chief problems there, of course, is to restore a concept of bipartisanship in handling those appropriations bills," Mr. Stevens said. Leaders of both parties have agreed to reduce spending levels in the 2003 budget by $9.2 billion, as requested by the president.
Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Republicans established rules that prevented Democrats from offering amendments that included more spending.
"The House will impose a budget for an entire year without being accountable for the hundreds of issues in these bills," Mr. Obey said, adding that it is the responsibility of the minority party to offer alternatives to the majority party's agenda.
"We don't expect to win, but we do expect to be able to at least offer amendments so the two parties can define their differences," Mr. Obey said. He accused the Republicans of "rigging the process" and turning the House into a "Soviet-style Congress," which only produces results dictated by the party leadership.
Jo Powers, spokeswoman for Rep. David Dreier, California Republican and chairman of the House Rules Committee, said Democrats were free to offer amendments, but they refused to follow budget rules that have been in place since 1974.
"What Mr. Obey is asking for is a waiver to offer budget-busting amendments, and he's not getting one," Miss Powers said. "[Democrats] are not being denied the opportunity to offer anything."

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