Extension of jobless benefits weighed

The House on Wednesday narrowly defeated a Democratic attempt to give the unemployed an extra three months of jobless benefits after the White House threatened a veto. But Democratic leaders said they will immediately bring the bill back for a second vote today.

The bill would have extended the average $300-a-week unemployment benefit check by 13 weeks for all Americans. Job seekers in high-unemployment states – such as Alaska, California, Michigan and Rhode Island – could have had an extra 13 weeks on top of that.

Democratic leaders brought up the bill under a procedure requiring a two-thirds vote for approval. The final vote was 279-144, three shy of the margin needed for passage and to overcome a presidential veto.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said today's vote will need only a majority for passage. “We're not going to let this sink,” he said.

In the Senate, Democrats planned to add the measure to a must-pass war spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will keep all options open, but he “continues to believe the best way to pass this extension is by including it in the supplemental appropriations bill,” spokesman Jim Manley said.

Majority Democrats said the legislation was needed because of the tough economy and rising unemployment. But the White House said emergency steps like extending unemployment benefits have historically been taken only when the rate jumps considerably higher than the 5.5 percent reported for May.

The Bush administration also criticized the bill's extension of benefits to all states regardless of their unemployment rates. For example, South Dakota and Wyoming reported rates of 2.6 percent.