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House considers extending unemployment benefits
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    WASHINGTON — Almost 4 million people who can’t find a job would get at least $3,900 in extra unemployment benefits to help them survive the weak economy under legislation moving through the House on Wednesday. The White House has threatened a veto of the bill.
    The bill, which is expected to get wide House support, would extend the average $300-a-week unemployment benefit check by 13 weeks for all Americans. Job seekers in high unemployment states like Alaska, California, Michigan and Rhode Island would get an extra 13 weeks on top of that.
    ‘‘The bill will provide relief to American families struggling through these tough economic times,’’ said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
    The vote puts some Republicans in a tight spot politically, with 8.5 million Americans reported unemployed in May.
    The White House is opposing an extension while prospective GOP presidential candidate John McCain says he’s in favor.
    McCain told CNBC on Tuesday night that Congress ‘‘has to extend unemployment benefits.’’ But the Bush administration said emergency steps like extending unemployment benefits have historically been taken only when the unemployment rate jumps considerably higher than the 5.5 percent reported for May.
    ‘‘Extensions have generally been granted only when the unemployment rate was notably higher than it is today, at or above 7 percent,’’ the White House said in a statement.
    The Bush administration also complained that the bill gives extended benefits to all states regardless of their unemployment rates. For example, South Dakota and Wyoming reported unemployment rates of 2.6 percent.
    ‘‘It is fiscally irresponsible to provide extra benefits in states with low unemployment rates,’’ the White House statement said.
    White House officials said they could support a bill that only offers the 13-week extension to high-unemployment states. But Democrats argue people should not have to wait for things to get worse before the federal government helps them.
    ‘‘It’s hard to believe that anyone would quibble and say that these hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who have exhausted their benefits should not receive them,’’ said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.
    Republicans concede Democrats are likely to gather enough votes to override a veto. Michael Steel, spokesman for Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Republican leader would vote against the bill, but is allowing his GOP members to vote however they want on the legislation.
    Congress has extended the benefits before during periods that turned out to be recessions: twice in the 1970s, again in the early 1980s and 1990s, and most recently from March 2002 through December 2003.
    The fate of the bill in the Senate is uncertain.
    Last month Senate Democrats won a veto-proof 75-22 vote to add the unemployment insurance extension to Bush’s must-pass war spending bill. But the White House is working hard to make sure the unemployment provisions are not attached to that bill.
    If the president prevails, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., may bring the bill up as a stand-alone measure. But Democrats would then need a dozen or so Republicans to vote with them to achieve the 60-vote tally needed to break a filibuster, which would be difficult to achieve.
    Unemployment insurance is a joint program between states and the federal government that is almost completely funded by employer taxes, either state or federal. Only three states — Alaska, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — collect taxes from workers for their unemployment benefit programs.
    The House legislation would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for workers who exhaust their regular 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.
    States with an unemployment rate of 6 percent or more would get an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits. Michigan (6.9), Alaska (6.7), California (6.2), Rhode Island (6.1) and the District of Columbia (6.0) are the only places currently that qualify.
    The extension would run through March, although unemployed workers who are already getting extra benefits before then would get their entire 13 weeks.
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    The bill is H.R. 5749


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