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Senate OKs Jobless-Benefits Extension

May 24, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Congress sent President Bush legislation Friday that would grant 13 weeks of emergency unemployment benefits to about 2.5 million jobless Americans who otherwise would exhaust their state aid by year'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%, almost 2 percentage points higher than when Bush took office. About 8.8 million people are out of work.

In passing the unemployment extension, the Senate voted to approve the House bill, which had cleared the night before. By forgoing amendments, legislators ensured that the bill would reach the president more quickly for his signature.

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

"We are not going to pass a major expansion," said Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. "We're not going to do it; I'll tell you that right now. So you can make all the speeches you want to."

About 1 million people who have used up their state and federal aid won't get extra help under the plan. Democrats think Bush and Republicans are politically vulnerable because of the weak economy and continued tax cuts that they say do little to help most Americans.

"This body voted for a tax bill today that provides billions for the wealthiest and not a cent for unemployed workers -- not one dime, not one nickel, not one penny for those hardworking men and women who are suffering most from the economic crisis," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).

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

It was the third time Congress has acted on unemployment since last year.

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