WASHINGTON -- Extending an election-year olive branch to Congress, President Bush yesterday endorsed a $2.7 billion compromise measure to extend jobless benefits another 13 weeks for the long-term unemployed.
The House Ways and Means Committee swiftly adopted the bill without opposition. In contrast to monthslong battles over unemployment benefits last year, the new bill was expected to sail through the House and Senate next week and be rushed to the president's desk for his signature as the first recession-relief measure of 1992.
The bill would take effect immediately and would protect workers whose basic 26 weeks of compensation have expired, as well as those who exhaust their rights to the extra 13 or 20 weeks of benefits approved by Congress in November.
The new legislation would expire July 4, a time when many economists believe a recovery will be under way. But a spokesman for the committee said Congress likely would approve another extension this summer if joblessness remained near the current 7.1 percent.
White House backing was assured after House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., worked out an agreement with House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel, R-Ill., to pay for the extra benefits with $2.2 billion of unforeseen budget savings and $500 million from a speed-up in future corporate tax payments.
"I fully support that agreement," Mr. Bush said in a friendly "Dear Danny" letter to Mr. Rostenkowski. "Thank you for your cooperation in seeking a bipartisan solution to this problem," the letter said.
The harmony contrasted sharply with the drawn-out struggle last year over additional jobless benefits. Mr. Bush vetoed one bill and blocked payments under another.
Democrats contended that Mr. Bush showed insensitivity to millions of jobless Americans during a stubborn recession. Since then, with his popularity waning as he enters a re-election campaign, Mr. Bush has acknowledged that he underestimated the severity of the economic downturn.
His letter yesterday will enable Mr. Bush to sign the latest extension of unemployment compensation, as voters in depressed New Hampshire prepare to cast ballots Feb. 18 in the nation's first presidential primary election.
The new measure was scaled down from Mr. Rostenkowski's proposed $4.5 billion bill, which would have provided extra jobless payments through Oct. 3.
Despite the unusual bipartisan accord, some committee members argued that Congress must make permanent changes in the system of unemployment insurance to remedy weaknesses made more obvious by the long downturn.
"The unemployment [compensation] system is a broken system, and we are fixing it yet again," complained Rep. Thomas J. Downey, D-N.Y., a leading advocate of a major overhaul of jobless benefits.