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Pelosi Draws, Then Smudges, Lines in Sand on Budget

Pelosi, left, wants Republicans to agree to an extension of unemployment benefits. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)
Pelosi, left, wants Republicans to agree to an extension of unemployment benefits. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wants unemployment insurance legislation to be passed this year, but she sent conflicting signals Thursday about what Democrats’ demands would be.

First, she seemed to be drawing a line in the sand by saying Democrats would not support any forthcoming budget agreement that doesn’t include an extension of unemployment benefits.

“We are making a very clear statement that we cannot, cannot support a budget agreement that does not include unemployment insurance in the budget or as a sidebar in order to move it along,” Pelosi said at a special hearing convened by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee specifically on the subject of unemployment insurance.

Later she seemed to walk back those remarks during a Democratic leadership press conference, clarifying that she would not make her vote on a budget agreement contingent upon a one-year extension of emergency unemployment insurance aid.

“What I said was … as we go forward with the budget, I wanted to see unemployment insurance in there,” Pelosi said. “It could be separate from that as well.”

“What we’re saying is, the clock is ticking,” she continued. “We have a couple of weeks … before Christmas, and we need to get all this done.”

“It doesn’t have to be in the same legislative agreement, but we want to see a commitment and a way that we’re gonna get that done by the end of this year,” added House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., standing beside Pelosi on Thursday afternoon.

Van Hollen is part of a budget conference committee that was set up after the government shutdown ended. The conferees have until Dec. 13 to come up with an agreement, but it’s unclear how close they are to a deal. While budget negotiators have given some lawmakers reason for optimism, Speaker John A. Boehner on Thursday indicated that no consensus is near.

Democrats do appear to be standing firm on at least one issue related to a budget deal: They are not inclined to support a deal that reduces retirement benefit payments for federal workers. It’s a provision rumored to be under consideration by the chief budget negotiators, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“I think it’s inappropriate, absent of a big deal, when you’re dealing with all segments of savings and investments … to further look to the pockets of federal employees at this point in time,” said Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., at the Thursday afternoon press conference, arguing that government employees have already shouldered enough of the burden of reducing the deficit.

“It’s not necessary. Mr. Van Hollen points out he has alternatives that don’t deal with that at all,” Hoyer continued.

Van Hollen came to the press conference armed with a 1.5-page summary sheet of the House Democrats’ ideal budget blueprint.

Among other things, it calls for a replacement of the sequester, the closures of a number of corporate and individual tax income loopholes, a downpayment on early childhood education initiatives and $50 billion in upfront infrastructure investments.

Overall, however, Democratic leaders were largely mum on what they would or would not accept, perhaps seeking to play their cards close to the vest as a deal is hashed out between now and the end of next week.

“These are our priorities, and the final outcome has to take into account and reflect many of the important issues that we’ve outlined here,” Van Hollen said.

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