Thursday, June 12, 2008 | 2 a.m.
In a sign of pocketbook issues overpowering partisan politics, Nevada’s two Republicans in the House crossed party lines Wednesday to vote for legislation that would extend unemployment benefits to those out of work.
Even as the national unemployment rate experienced its biggest one-month jump in more than 20 years to reach 5.5 percent last week, Nevada’s jobless rate remained even higher at 5.7 percent.
Republican Rep. Jon Porter had previously voted for the legislation, but on Tuesday he and Rep. Dean Heller were among an even larger contingent of 49 Republicans who joined Democrats in supporting the bill President Bush has promised to veto.
The vote was largely a test to see whether Democrats could attract the two-thirds vote necessary to override Bush’s opposition. They failed 279-144.
However, as soon as today, Democrats may bring the bill back with procedural rules that would require only a simple majority to pass.
Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley spoke in support of the bill on the floor: “The once recession-proof economy of my district of Las Vegas has not been spared from the effects of this downturn.”
Passing the bill, Berkley said, would “help thousands of hardworking Nevadans get by until the situation improves and they can return to work.”
Porter had been an early supporter of the bill and was among just three Republicans to cross party lines to vote for it when it came before the Ways and Means Committee.
The bill would make funds available so states could offer an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits once the traditional 26 weeks ran out. In states with unemployment rates greater than 6 percent, 26 additional weeks would be offered.
In Nevada, an estimated 11,000 workers have exhausted their unemployment benefits but remain without jobs. Over the next year, another 36,700 jobless workers in the state are expected to run out of benefits.
Congress estimates nearly 50,000 out-of-work Nevadans could benefit from the aid.
The bill would cost $15 billion.
Berkley also supported the bill in the Ways and Means Committee when it initially passed this spring.
Both Porter and Berkley then voted for extending unemployment benefits last month when the issue was tied to legislation offering veterans enhanced educational benefits under a new GI Bill. Heller voted no that time.
Heller’s office declined repeated requests for comment on the congressman’s vote.