WASHINGTON – John McCain is just one of dozens of Republicans abandoning President Bush to join Democrats who want to extend unemployment payments for people whose benefits have run out.
“We have to extend the unemployment benefits,” McCain said Tuesday on CNBC. “We have to … because we all know Americans are hurting, and hurting badly.”
McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, hasn’t been shy about trying to separate himself from the unpopular Bush. And neither are a bucketful of Republicans in the House as they confront a vote this week on extending benefits for the longer-term jobless.
The half-percentage point jump reported last week in the nationwide unemployment rate only cements momentum behind the idea.
“This is a no brainer,” said Rep. Phil English, R-Pa. “It provides extended benefits at a time people are feeling deep insecurity.”
Dozens of House Republicans are likely to abandon Bush on a vote this week to award 13 additional weeks of unemployment compensation to people who’ve used up their benefits.
The legislation would make more than 1 million people immediately eligible for extended benefits, with 3 million more becoming eligible in coming months.
The White House opposes the extension, saying such emergency steps have historically been taken only when the unemployment rate jumps considerably higher than the 5.5 percent reported for May.
Administration officials are devoting their energies to making sure the unemployment provisions are not attached to a must-pass Iraq spending bill making its way through Congress.
But with Bush’s clout ebbing on Capitol Hill, many Republicans already are breaking with the White House – especially those in districts tilting Democratic or where unemployment is high.