Showdown near on jobless benefits Democrats in Senate aim to extend benefits and ward off veto from President Bush

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats and the Bush administration confront each other today in a showdown vote over the extension of jobless benefits.

It's the second war on the issue in two months, and there are predictions that the outcome will be the same -- approval of a Democratic jobless bill by Congress and a rejection by President Bush that effectively will kill the measure.


"This is a political issue," said Senate Minority Whip Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., last week as he insisted that the Democrats have delayed debate on the issue. "Where have the Democrats been these past eight months?" he asked. "Sitting around on their fannies? Howling up at the moon?"

But the Democrats blame the president, saying that he is able to find millions of dollars for those who are suffering overseas but no additional money for Americans who are out of work.


In August, Bush refused to declare an emergency in the economy, a refusal that quashed funding for a Democrat-inspired bill, sponsored by Rep. Tom Downey, D-N.Y., that passed both the House and Senate and would have extended unemployment benefits for as many as 20 weeks.

In July, 350,000 more workers ran out of unemployment benefits, bringing the total number whose benefits had ended to 2 million for the year. In August, only 37 percent of the unemployed were receiving unemployment benefits. August unemployment was at 6.8 percent nationally.

On Sept. 17, the House reacted by passing a $6.3 billion measure, also sponsored by Downey, that again would give the jobless as many as 20 weeks in additional benefits. The vote was 283-125, enough to override a presidential veto.

Today the Senate is set to debate and vote on similar legislation, sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas. It's expected to pass, while GOP alternatives sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., who proposes to extend benefits by as many as 10 weeks, and Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who proposes an economic growth package, probably will be defeated. Administration officials have argued that the nation is recovering from the recession, so there is no need to extend benefits.

Moreover, they say that because the Democratic legislation doesn't provide any means to pay for more benefits, such an extension would break the budget agreement between Congress and the White House and would increase the federal deficit.

The Democrats argue that $8 billion was set aside to pay for just such emergencies. Another of their arguments is that Bush is ignoring domestic problems to concentrate on foreign policy.

But yesterday, Bush said he was deeply engaged in domestic policy and busy phoning senators to urge them to vote for a Republican alter native to the Democratic unemployment bill.

The White House is banking on enough Senate Republicans to sustain a veto. The vote may be close, for many Republicans represent states with high unemployment. But Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said, "I don't know that we have the 67 votes necessary to override the veto."