Lawmakers OK Jobless Benefits Bill Despite Partisan Wrangling

February 5, 2004 ( - A measure that would extend unemployment benefits for nearly 2 million Americans passed the US House of Representatives on Wednesday.

While the vote was largely symbolic – the US Senate would have to adopt the measure, and then lawmakers would have to take a separate vote appropriating the funds – it underscored lawmakers’ concern over rising unemployment, the Washington Post reported. While the floor debate divided strictly along party lines, 39 Republicans broke ranks to approve the measure 227 to 179.

“This shows there’s more anxiety about the economy and unemployment than the administration would like to admit,” Bill Samuel, legislative director of the AFL-CIO, told the Post. “What happened today is the dam broke. The Republican leadership was caught napping.”

Democrats have spent weeks trying to provide federal aid to workers whose unemployment benefits expired in late December. Blocked by Republicans on several occasions, they opted to attach the language to a popular bill providing community service grants.

US Representative George Miller (D-California), who wrote the language providing $6.7 billion in unemployment benefits, said the amendment offered the best shot at helping workers who are losing jobs at a rate of 90,000 a week.   “Last week the shocking neglect of the administration became all too apparent,” Miller told the Post. “They can’t find work and this administration won’t help them. . . . This is the only vehicle we have because you will bring us nothing to address the unemployment.”

Republicans countered, saying the Democrats had no business tacking on an unrelated amendment to an authorization bill headed to the Senate. “I’ve never seen a more cynical attempt to exploit America’s unemployed workers for political gain,” said US Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio).