Blue Dogs to Support Unemployment Measure

Posted June 11, 2008 at 10:40am

Betting that Republicans can’t afford not to vote with them in response to rising joblessness rates, House Democratic leaders on Wednesday are planning to bring up legislation to extend unemployment benefits under suspension of the rules.

The vote is expected at about 4 p.m. today.

The suspension calendar is typically reserved for noncontroversial legislation — bills require a two-thirds vote for passage with limited debate, and they may not be amended.

The benefits were originally part of the war supplemental bill, but some lawmakers balked at the cost and the fact that it violates pay-as-you-go budget rules.

But fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats say they are willing to support the measure without offsets because, in this case, the rise in joblessness warrants immediate action.

“I would certainly consider this temporary extension of unemployment benefits an emergency and therefore [it] should not be required to be PAYGO compliant,” said Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), Blue Dog co-chairman for communications.

“However, the Blue Dogs remain committed to seeing that all new mandatory spending programs passed by the House are fully paid for so that we do not pass a mountain of debt onto future generations of Americans.”

Initially, there was speculation that the Rules Committee would need to set a rule for the bill, which extends unemployment benefits by 13 weeks in most states and by 26 weeks in states with more jobless people. But the move Tuesday night to set the bill on the suspension calendar signaled that Democrats believe they have the two-thirds vote needed for passage.

“We feel that this legislation should have broad bipartisan support and should be passed quickly,” a senior House Democratic aide said.

Hinting that unemployment benefits ultimately may be attached to the war supplemental, a strategy that could help to advance the issue through the legislative process more quickly, the aide said, “One way or another, this bill is going to the president’s desk before we leave for the July Fourth recess.”

House Democrats are shooting for 290 votes on the measure, which would be enough to pass it under suspended rules and to override a potential presidential veto. In addition, that number “puts pressure on Senate Republicans” to support the bill, the aide said.

A House GOP leadership aide said the issue for Republican leaders likely will boil down to whether to whip the vote or just let Members vote how they want.

Previously, Republicans have complained that the bill, which would increase budget deficits by $6.2 billion this year, does not abide by PAYGO rules. The bill currently draws money from the federal unemployment trust fund to offset costs.

Democratic leaders perceived a split among Republicans on the issue. “The fact that the House GOP leadership is ‘letting’ its members go on this vote shows that there is division in their ranks,” said Stacey Farnen Bernards, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).