WASHINGTON -- The House easily passed an extended unemployment benefits bill yesterday that would raise the already bloated federal deficit by another $6.3 billion.
The 283-to-125 vote, which was resounding enough to overcome a threatened presidential veto, came only minutes after the House voted by an even more overwhelming margin of 341 to 65 to defeat a proposal by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., to increase unemployment insurance taxes to pay for the expanded benefits.
In rejecting the proposed tax increase, the House decided to increase federal borrowing to finance the jobless package, exempting it from the pay-as-you-go requirements of last year's budget agreement by invoking an "economic emergency" and using the law's emergency suspension procedures.
President Bush and congressional Republicans have strongly opposed creating such an exception to the agreement less than a year after it was negotiated.
In a statement issued Monday, top administration officials cited the bill's misuse of the budget law's emergency spending procedures as a principal reason for threatening to veto the bill.
"The administration does not believe it is appropriate to declare an emergency ... most private forecasters believe that the recession is ending and the recovery is underway," the statement said, adding that "by historical standards, the current unemployment rate is not cause for congressional action."
But the lopsided vote in favor of the bill, which included 40% of the House Republican Conference, surprised even Democratic leaders and led them to predict that they could override a veto. "The commanding majority makes this a veto-proof bill," said House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo.
House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said the bill received a large number of Republican votes, despite concerns about breaking the budget agreement, because of the "pain" caused by the recession.
But he said that the Senate's version of the jobless benefits bill is likely to hold much more closely to the agreement, posing less of a dilemma for the President and Republicans.
Rep. Gingrich led a bid by Republicans on the House floor yesterday to attach an economic stimulus package to the unemployment bill, but the measure was defeated on a procedural vote.
If the effort had succeeded, he said, the bill would have gained overwhelming support from the Republicans and the President. "We want an employment bill, not just an unemployment bill," he said.
Rep. Gingrich's proposed stimulus package -- which he said would create 1.1 million jobs and 220,000 additional home sales -- included tax credits for first-time home buyers, urban enterprise zones, expanded savings incentives, and tax cuts on capital gains and individual income. He said the package, which the Treasury Department has estimated would not increase the deficit, may reappear on the Senate floor later this month.
Meanwhile, momentum appeared to be growing in Congress to reopen or rewrite the budget agreement in light of the changes in the Soviet Union that point to a reduced need for defense spending.
Late last week, the Senate passed a resolution calling on the President and Congress to consider shifting some money from the defense budget into domestic programs, tax reduction, or deficit programs, tax reduction, or deficit reduction, "if it is determined that, based on current and changing world events, the defense spending path negotiated in the 1990 summit could be reduced in the future."
Yesterday, Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., the influential chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he would support greater defense cuts if the Soviet Union continues to pull back and irreversibly destroy its vast military empire, and democratic forces demonstrate that they are fully in control of the country.
While he called for a reassessment of the agreement in fiscal 1993 and beyond, Rep. Aspin has previously said that about $1 billion of defense spending slated for the coming fiscal year could also be funneled into emergency food aid to the Soviets and other peacetime uses.