Washington Digest: Pelosi plans another vote as Republicans block extension of jobless benefits

WASHINGTON -- A bill that would have allowed unemployed workers to continue collecting jobless payments until the end of February failed to pass the House last week.

Lawmakers voted 258-154 in favor of the legislation, but it was brought up under a fast-track process that needed a two-thirds majority to pass.

It was the first effort in the post-election lame-duck session of Congress to renew an unemployment insurance program that expires at the end of November. Supporters say benefits will run out for 2 million people on Dec. 1 unless they are renewed.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the bill would be brought back for a another vote after Thanksgiving.

Twenty-one Republicans joined 237 Democrats in voting for the extension bill. Eleven Democrats and 143 Republicans voted against it.

With the nation's unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, and above that in a number of individual states, Congress has passed four temporary extensions of benefits in the past year.

Democrats painted opponents as cold-hearted in not supporting jobless payments with the holidays approaching.

"Those who are unemployed want a job. Those who are out of work want employment benefits. I don't think that there is any excuse that can be given," said Rep Danny Davis, D-Ill.

Republicans said they favored the payments but want the $12.3 billion cost offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, perhaps among economic stimulus programs.

"There are sufficient unspent stimulus funds to do just that, to cover the $12 billion cost of the bill before us. This is not a new Republican idea or a new idea," said Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La. "The fact is we can both provide this help and pay for it by cutting less effective stimulus spending."

Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the bill.

Veto sustained

The House voted 235-185 to sustain President Barack Obama's veto of a bill he feared could contribute to the foreclosure crisis.

The bill requires federal and state courts to recognize documents notarized in another state. Its sponsor, Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., said it would smooth away red tape.

"This is not an isolated problem," Aderholt said. For instance, "a construction company in one state submits a contract for a job in another state and is turned down because the second state refuses to recognize the notarized contract. This is interfering with interstate commerce."

Congress passed the bill in September. But then reports emerged questioning the validity of documentation used to carry out thousands of home foreclosures. Obama vetoed the bill, saying it could have the "unintended impact" of furthering questionable foreclosures.

Aderholt and other Republicans argued the legislation would have no impact on housing problems, but the veto was sustained.

Berkley, Titus and Heller voted to sustain the veto.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.