WASHINGTON -- Acting with near-unanimity on the first recession-relief measure of the year, Congress yesterday approved and sent to President Bush a $2.7 billion unemployment bill that would extend long-term jobless benefits for another 13 weeks.
President Bush, who twice blocked similar attempts last year before signing a compromise bill, asked for the legislation during his State of the Union address only a week ago. He is expected to sign it.
Bipartisan support and the lagging economy combined to speed the measure through the House by a 404-8 vote. Soon after, the Senate gave its approval to the House bill on a 94-2 roll call vote and sent it to the White House.
"We need to bridge the jobless gap until a genuine recovery occurs for families in every state of the union," said Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen, D-Texas. "Unemployed men and women face a grim job market where job layoffs are outpacing job creation. There are no indications that unemployment will recede quickly."
The prospect that Congress will be asked to extend the jobless benefits again this summer was raised by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, during the brief debate on the measure.
"This will probably not be the last time this year the House is asked to deal with this problem," Mr. Rostenkowski said before the vote.
Some Democrats gibed that Mr. Bush had an election-year conversion in favor of the bill. As House Majority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., put it: "I wish this meant the president has seen the light. I'm afraid it's just that he's felt the heat."
However, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said it was the Democrats in Congress who had switched to meet the president's demand that the additional benefits be paid for by other revenue-raising measures under the pay-as-you-go doctrine.
Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that they preferred a growing economy and more jobs to additional benefits for those out of work.
Under the extension passed in November, jobless workers who had exhausted their regular 26 weeks of payments received an additional 20 weeks of benefits in the states with the highest unemployment rates and 13 extra weeks in Maryland and all others.
The new bill would extend those provisions from the current June 13 expiration date through July 4.
If the new legislation is enacted, jobless workers will be eligible for 33 weeks of extra benefits in 13 states with the highest unemployment rates and a total of 26 weeks of extra benefits in all other states, including Maryland.
The 33-week states are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia, along with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
At Mr. Bush's insistence, the additional benefits would be paid for by tapping a $2.2 billion surplus created when pay-as-you-go-measures enacted last year raised more money than needed to cover outlays and by a speed-up in payment of corporate taxes.
* Current law: The jobless qualify for 26 weeks of standard benefits and also qualify for 13 to 20 weeks of extended benefits, depending on unemployment in each state.
* New benefits: Bill adopted yesterday provides 13 more weeks of benefits to people who have used up their coverage. This brings extended coverage to a total of 26 weeks in most states, 33 weeks in others, depending on unemployment levels in those states.
* Duration: Additional 13 weeks of coverage will be available immediately to those who use up their other extended benefits by June 13. The existing program, which had been scheduled to expire June 13, will run through July 4.
* Maryland: Residents of Maryland and 36 other states qualify for a total of 26 weeks of extended coverage. Residents of Puerto Rico and 13 states qualify for 33 weeks of benefits.