WASHINGTON Almost 4 million people who can't find a job would get at least $3,900 in extra unemployment benefits to help them survive the weak economy under legislation moving through the House on Wednesday. The White House has threatened a veto of the bill.
The bill, which is expected to get wide House support, would extend the average $300-a-week unemployment benefit check by 13 weeks for all Americans. Job seekers in high unemployment states like Alaska, California, Michigan and Rhode Island would get an extra 13 weeks on top of that.
"The bill will provide relief to American families struggling through these tough economic times," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
The vote puts some Republicans in a tight spot politically, with 8.5 million Americans reported unemployed in May.
The White House is opposing an extension while prospective GOP presidential candidate John McCain says he's in favor.
McCain told CNBC on Tuesday night that Congress "has to extend unemployment benefits." But the Bush administration said emergency steps like extending unemployment benefits have historically been taken only when the unemployment rate jumps considerably higher than the 5.5 percent reported for May.
"Extensions have generally been granted only when the unemployment rate was notably higher than it is today, at or above 7 percent," the White House said in a statement.
The Bush administration also complained that the bill gives extended benefits to all states regardless of their unemployment rates. For example, South Dakota and Wyoming reported unemployment rates of 2.6 percent.
"It is fiscally irresponsible to provide extra benefits in states with low unemployment rates," the White House statement said.