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In Futility: House Extends Unemployment Benefits

The House today approved a bill to extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks beyond the current 26-week benefit window — a proposal that will likely go nowhere in the face of a White House veto threat. The count was 274 to 137, with 49 Republicans joining every voting Democrat to pass the measure.

Democratic leaders — who yesterday failed by three votes to rally the two-thirds majority required to pass the bill under special rules — said the benefit extension is appropriate considering the flailing economy. From House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.):

Extending unemployment benefits is not an act of charity. It is an act of compassion for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. [snip] Workers are not only at risk of losing their jobs, but also are suffering from decreasing household incomes and exploding gas, food and health care costs.

The bill would provide an estimated 3.8 million unemployed Americans with 13-weeks of additional benefits, averaging $300 per week. In states where the unemployment rate is 6 percent or higher, the extension would jump to 26 weeks. (As of April, that would qualify individuals in Michigan, Alaska, California, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia.)

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill would cost $13.6 billion over the next five years and roughly $10 billion over 10.

But the White House opposes the bill, arguing that the current jobless rate isn’t high enough to merit an across-the-board benefit extension. From yesterday’s statement from the White House Office of Budget and Management:

At present, a majority of states have unemployment rates at or below 5 percent, and it is fiscally irresponsible to provide extra benefits in states with low unemployment rates. [snip] As many economists have noted, the counterproductive result of a broad extension of benefits would be that recipients may remain unemployed for slightly longer than they would have otherwise.

It’s an odd time to be claiming that the nation’s jobless rate is under control. Last week, the Labor Dept. reported that unemployment jumped from 5.0 percent in April to 5.5 percent in May — the largest one-month leap since February 1986.

On Thursday, the news got worse: The number of individuals filing first-time unemployment insurance claims jumped to 384,000 in the first week of June — up 25,000 from the week before, according to the Labor Dept.

You’d think Republicans would be more sympathetic to these folks: A number of them are about to be unemployed themselves.

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