(CNSNews.com) - The House overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would supply American businesses with tax cuts and allow an extra 13 weeks of benefits for the nation's unemployed. The bill now goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass and then would be sent to President Bush for his signature.
The House measure passed on a 417-3 vote. Reps. Allen Boyd of Florida, Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Charles Stenholm of Texas, all Democrats, cast the only dissenting votes.
The bill would extend regular 26-week jobless benefits by 13 weeks and allow for an additional automatic extension for those states that have higher than average unemployment rates. It would also give businesses a three-year, 30 percent tax write-off for new investments.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) took to the floor just before the vote and said the bill was "common sense legislation."
"Most experts now agree that our tax cuts last year spurred an economic recovery. This legislation will make the recovery last a long time. It contains tax extenders and help for those areas of New York that were devastated by the terrorist attacks of September 11. In other words, this legislation helps hire workers," said Hastert.
But Hastert said he was disappointed the House bill did not address the issue of health care for unemployed workers. A Republicans provision would have offered tax credits to help the unemployed pay for their health insurance premiums, but House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) rejected the idea.
"I believe that the unemployed want help with their health care costs, and I think it is a shame that the Democrats would not accept this common sense provision. But this bill will help workers who are unemployed by extending their benefits, and most importantly by helping them get a job," said Hastert.
Gephardt thinks the Republicans were late with their legislation addressing the unemployment problem.
"We could have passed this bill last fall. It's too bad it took the House Republicans so long to assist the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own," said Gephardt.
In order to win Democratic support for the bill, House Republicans also had to sacrifice the provision that would have accelerated individual income tax cuts now scheduled to take place in 2004.
"The package today is really the least we could do, but apparently it is the most that Democratic leaders will tolerate," said House Republican Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas).
Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota reacted cautiously but favorably to the plan.
"This is a package very similar to what we have introduced and supported and voted for and advocated," Daschle told reporters.
He said the Senate could take up the bill before the end of the month.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush would sign the bill once it landed on his desk.
E-mail a news tip to Jim Burns.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.