- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2003


Congress sent President Bush legislation yesterday that would grant 13 weeks of emergency unemployment benefits to 2.4 million jobless Americans who otherwise would exhaust their state aid by month’s end.

Lawmakers acted before leaving town for a weeklong holiday recess because the program was expiring May 31. The Senate’s voice vote on the House-passed bill occurred without debate.

The nation’s unemployment rate is 6 percent, almost 2 percentage points higher than when Mr. Bush took office. About 8.8 million people are out of work, victims of a struggling economy that is stuck in low gear without producing new jobs.

Meanwhile, layoffs mount. Boeing Co. announced yesterday that it will furlough 1,150 employees as part of continuing cutbacks.

Republicans are mindful that a bleak economic outlook could be a problem next year, when they try to hold the White House and Congress in elections.

In an effort to jump-start a recovery, Congress sent Bush a $350 billion package heavy on tax cuts. Blunting Democrats’ attacks, Republicans also quickly pushed through the $7.4 billion extension of unemployment benefits.

“We’ve demonstrated that we accomplish things, not just talk about them,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican.

In passing the unemployment extension, the Senate voted to approve the House bill, which had cleared the previous night. By forgoing amendments, the bill will reach the president more quickly for his signature.

Democrats lost another attempt yesterday to provide more generous jobless benefits.

“We are not going to pass a major expansion,” said Sen. Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. About 1 million people who have used up all their state and federal aid won’t receive extra help under the plan. Democrats think Mr. Bush and Republicans are politically vulnerable because of the weak economy and tax cuts that they say do little to help most Americans.

In the bill, some jobless Americans in six states with high unemployment rates will receive 26 weeks of federal benefits. Those states are Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

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