WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation that would give unemployed workers an additional 13 weeks of jobless benefits advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The House Ways and Means Committee passed the legislation over the objections of some Republicans who pushed for a more limited bill that would have extended jobless benefits only for workers in high unemployment states like Michigan.
They noted that the unemployment rate remains below levels experienced of previous economic downturns.
The bill, passed on a vote of 23-13, would allow an additional 13 weeks of benefits beyond the 26 weeks offered by most states. The unemployed in states with high jobless rates would get another 13 weeks.
Democrats argued that the relatively low national unemployment rate of 5.1 percent belies pockets of joblessness in many parts of the country and the difficulty people are having finding new jobs.
Rep. Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said about 1.3 million workers, about 17 percent of the unemployed, have been out of a job for more than six months, almost double the number of long-term unemployed during the 2001 recession.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that about 3.5 million jobless Americans will run out of benefits before finding another job this year.
Democrats, who control Congress, wanted to include an extension of unemployment benefits in the economic stimulus package that was passed in February. President George W. Bush objected and the measure was dropped in the bipartisan plan to issue tax rebates to help spur consumer spending.
The sluggish economy has become a major issue in the presidential campaign and the jobless benefits bill might be attached to a $100 billion Iraq and Afghanistan war spending bill sought by Bush. (Reporting by Donna Smith)