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Democrats Plan to Move Unemployment Measure

Shifting away from a previous plan to insert extended unemployment benefits into the war supplemental, House Democratic leaders are now intending to bring forward on Wednesday stand-alone legislation that would extend those benefits by 13 weeks.

Democrats were originally intending to strip the benefits out of the war supplemental after the Senate objected to a tax increase to pay for them, which was demanded by fiscally conservative House lawmakers.

But record unemployment figures released on Friday seemed to have changed their thinking and they intend to bring up a separate measure approved by committee in April.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed to move legislation to extend unemployment insurance immediately.

“We have argued for this extension since the beginning of the year, as the economy weakened, but we have faced continued resistance from the Bush administration,” Pelosi said.

“In the face of the biggest jump in the unemployment percentage in two decades, and huge job losses in the airline and auto industry among others, America’s workers and families can wait no longer, and neither will the Congress. This bill will come to the floor of the House.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said Congress must respond to the latest unemployment statistics because it is the “economically wise and morally just” thing to do.

The stand-alone bill, sponsored by Ways and Means Committee members Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) and Phil English (R-Pa.), would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks for most states, while states with more jobless people could extend benefits by 26 weeks. The expansion would be in effect through January 2009, but workers receiving coverage before then would still get full benefits beyond the deadline.

Republicans have complained that the bill, which would increase budget deficits by $6.2 billion this year, does not abide by the House’s pay-as-you-go budgetary rules. The bill currently draws money from the federal unemployment trust fund to offset costs.

The bill will put fiscally conservative Blue Dogs Democrats in the tenuous position of having to decide whether to oppose the bill for lacking offsets, and thereby vote against help for the unemployed at a time of national economic uncertainty.

During the earlier markup, Blue Dog John Tanner (D-Tenn.) expressed concern that there is not enough money in the unemployment trust fund to pay for the extended benefits.

“I don’t know whether I’m going to vote for this bill or not because it is not paid for,” Tanner said.

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