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Conferees Back Bill Extending Jobless Benefits Up to 20 Weeks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Senate and House negotiators swiftly agreed Thursday on a politically popular $6.4-billion measure to extend jobless benefits for up to 20 weeks for the long-term unemployed, moving Congress closer to a veto showdown with President Bush.

The temporary legislation, which targets victims of the recession who have exhausted their maximum 26 weeks of benefits, is certain to be ratified quickly by both chambers before it is sent to Bush next week.

It would provide 7, 13 or 20 weeks of benefits, depending on the average jobless rate in the preceding six months in each state. California residents would be entitled to 13 additional weeks of unemployment compensation.

The measure would take effect Oct. 6 but would cover workers who exhausted benefits after last March 1. Another provision would raise benefits for former members of the armed forces to bring them into parity with civilians.

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The President has said that the bill is not needed because the recession is ending, and has vowed to veto it as a budget-busting measure. Bush contended that the legislation would add $6.4 billion to the fast-rising deficit. He earlier endorsed an alternative sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) that would provide fewer benefits but raise enough revenues to offset the additional spending.

Democrats, joined by a sizable number of Republicans, have argued that the economy is in deep trouble and jobless workers deserve emergency help just as the President approved spending on behalf of Kurdish refugees, Israel, Turkey and Bangladesh earlier this year.

“The economy is losing steam,” said Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who was a chief negotiator of the compromise worked out less than 24 hours after the Senate approved a similar bill by a 69-30 margin.

Congress passed similar legislation last month but it required the President to declare that the jobless situation was an emergency before additional benefits were paid. The President signed the bill but blocked extra payments to the jobless by refusing to declare an emergency as the budget act requires.

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