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Reid Wants Unemployment Benefits in Supplemental

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday said it was likely that the Senate would make further changes to the war supplemental spending bill the House is expected to send over in the next week or so, particularly if it does not include an extension of jobless benefits.

Additionally, Reid expressed little confidence that Senate Republicans would consent to bringing up a separate unemployment measure that the House is expected to pass Thursday, but said he would try to move it.

“If the Republicans don’t let us go to the bill, I’m not wasting a week’s time” on time-consuming procedural maneuvers that would be needed to bring the bill up for debate, Reid warned.

The Democratic leader added that if the House does not also include unemployment benefits in their version of the supplemental, “We’ll put it in. We have an obligation to the American people to help people. This would be the first time that we have had an economic downturn of this magnitude that we haven’t extended unemployment benefits.”

House leaders have expressed a hope that they won’t have to include the unemployment provision in the supplemental if the Senate can pass it as a stand-alone measure. They have indicated they may hold off on passing the war bill until after the Senate acts on the stand-alone jobless bill.

Further complicating the process, Reid also hinted that the Senate might add back some of the domestic funding they supported, but that the House is expected to eliminate from the war bill.

“We believe that we had a pretty good product going over to the House,” Reid said. “We had 75 Senators who supported the GI Bill of Rights and supported a number of emergency issues that we felt are essential to this emergency supplemental. But we’ll get it back [from the House] and see what if anything of those things we need to add.”

The supplemental passed both chambers before the Memorial Day recess, but the version the Senate returned to the House was not acceptable to different factions of that chamber’s Democratic Caucus. For example, conservative Blue Dog Democrats have continued to insist that the GI bill’s educational benefits for veterans be offset with revenue raisers elsewhere — a proposal that died in the Senate.

Reid’s comments came in contrast to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who told reporters earlier Thursday that she did not want to have another round of the supplemental being pingponged back and forth between the two chambers.

Pelosi has been negotiating directly with the White House and expressed a desire to pass a bill that the president can sign. President Bush has indicated he may veto the supplemental if it contains too much spending, which could be in the form of extended unemployment benefits.

Both Pelosi and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also acknowledged what has become obvious to most Congressional observers: that they will not be able to send the measure to the president before June 15, the date that the Pentagon is expected to begin sending out furlough notices to contract employees.

Instead, both Pelosi and Durbin said the goal is to get the bill to the president before lawmakers leave for the July Fourth recess, which begins June 27. Previously, Democratic leaders in both chambers had held out hope that the bill would be completed by the end of this week.

Jennifer Bendery contributed to this report.

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