The bill would have extended 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 have been able to get an extra 13 weeks on top of that.
House Democratic leaders brought up the bill under a procedure that required a two-thirds vote for approval. The final vote was 279-144, just three votes shy of the margin needed for passage and to overcome a presidential veto.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the Thursday vote will only need a majority for passage. "We're not going to let this sink," Hoyer told reporters after the vote.
In the Senate, Democrats planned to add the measure to a must-pass war spending bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., will keep all options open, but he "continues to believe the best way to pass this extension is by including it in the supplemental appropriations bill," spokesman Jim Manley said.
Majority Democrats said the legislation was needed because of the tough economy and rising unemployment rates. But the White House 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.
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.