WASHINGTON — House and Senate committees today voted to phase out a program of supplemental unemployment benefits for about 340,000 Americans, as Democrats abandoned efforts to win a three-month extension.
By a 16-0 vote, the Republican-led Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would allow no new recipients, but would allow those currently on the program to receive the checks they have coming. Anything more generous, Senate GOP leaders argued, would certainly be met with a veto from President Reagan.
A short time later, the Democrat-led House Ways and Means Committee rejected a plan to extend the program and, by a 20-16 vote, approved the same phase-out passed by the Senate panel.
The committee then voted 36 to 0 to send the bill to the full House.
As the House committee debated the issue, about two dozen unemployed workers, dressed mostly in jeans and T-shirts, stood in the back of the room. They were from the National Unemployment Network, which represents unemployment councils in 40 cities.
"Have a nice Easter," one of the observers shouted to the lawmakers after the panel voted to end the benefits program.
The program, which provides additional jobless benefits for about 340,000 people who have used up their 26 weeks of regular state payments, expired Monday, making this the last week of eligibility. Final checks are to be mailed next week.
With Congress planning to begin a recess at week's end, Democratic forces had fought to extend the program for three months on a limited basis, which would cost about $430 million.
Lower Limit Set
However, the Senate Republican leadership said it would go along with nothing more expensive than the $180-million phase-out.
President Reagan has said he doesn't want Congress to extend the program because government figures show the economy is generating about 300,000 new jobs each month.
At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes said, "We're still opposed to any extension."
When it created the federal compensation program in 1982, Congress intended it as a temporary measure to help those hardest hit in a period of high unemployment. At the time, the nation's unemployment rate was 10%. The most recent jobless rate, reported for February, was 7.3%.
Before voting to phase out the program, the Senate panel rejected the House extension plan.
Loss of Benefits
"If we allow this program to be phased out as you propose, many people who need these benefits will be without them," argued Sen. John Heinz (R-Pa.), whose state is suffering from high unemployment.
"If what little we provide them in terms of unemployment benefits they will be without, it's not a matter of them losing their homes, but entire communities" will go out of existence, Heinz argued.
However, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), committee chairman, replied that unemployment in his state also is high and argued that with the threat of a Reagan veto looming over an extension of the program, senators should vote for a gradual phase-out "if you want anything at all."
On the Senate floor Monday, Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) noted that Reagan has suggested job training programs as a substitute for unemployment insurance extensions but said, "What the President is not saying is that the President is recommending cuts in job training.
"The President either does not know (about the proposed cuts) or he is being disingenuous."