Unemployment Measure Falls Short

Posted June 11, 2008 at 4:54pm

House Democrats on Wednesday fell three votes short of passing priority legislation to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks. But shortly afterward, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) vowed to bring the bill back to the floor Thursday morning under a rule. The bill passed 279-144, just shy of the two-thirds vote needed to pass it under the suspension calendar. Forty-eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure. “We just had a very sad vote,” Hoyer said afterward. Democrats will now move to Plan B: set a Rules Committee hearing for tonight and set an emergency rule to bring the bill back up Thursday. Under a rule, the bill must pass by only a simple majority. Democrats cannot “in good conscience” drop the issue “simply because we lacked three Republican votes,” Hoyer said. “So tomorrow we will bring this bill back.” The Majority Leader said he hoped the 279 Members who voted for the bill on Wednesday “will maintain that position tomorrow.” Top Democrats treated the setback as little more than that. “This is going to become law one way or another,” Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said. House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) chalked up the loss as a “small political bump in the road.” Referring to the oft-cited unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) lamented that the figure was not enough “to shake the Republican Conference.” The sagging economy is only going to get “deeper, harder and more difficult on middle-class Americans,” Emanuel said. GOP leaders said they have been willing to work with Democrats on a more targeted unemployment insurance bill. But instead of working with them, Democrats “chose to go it alone and ram a massive bill through under suspension,” said Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). Earlier on Wednesday, Blunt said he opposed the bill because it would extend benefits regardless of “whether your state has a real unemployment problem or not.” He also cited concerns that the bill does not require people to work for a set period of time in order to qualify for benefits.” “It’s no wonder they didn’t obtain a veto-sustainable number,” Ferrier said. “It’s hardly reasonable to ask taxpayers to give over six months of unemployment to somebody who may have only worked two weeks. That’s not helping those that are really struggling.”