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Unemployment Extension Stuck in Legislative Limbo

Heller was the top Republican author of the bipartisan Senate unemployment insurance extension bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Heller was the top Republican author of the bipartisan Senate unemployment insurance extension bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

An extension of emergency unemployment benefits remains stuck in legislative limbo nearly a month after the Senate voted to send it to the House and more than four months after the benefits expired.  

The two Senate co-authors of a retroactive, five-month unemployment extension continue to pressure Speaker John A. Boehner to take it up, but the speaker is still waiting for the White House to make a new offer before he will act. And the White House has made no such offer.  

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., spoke to Boehner earlier this week and said the speaker is willing to pass an extension, but only on the condition that President Barack Obama offer a measure to create jobs that could be attached to the extension bill.  

“He wants the president to move on the necessary jobs proposals … because he believes if they do that then there would be a better chance of something like this passing,” Heller said, adding that Boehner made his position known to Obama late last year. Heller noted that House Republicans are frustrated about the pileup of bills they have sent to the Senate that have been ignored.  

“I do understand the frustration,” Heller said. “But that is where the speaker is coming from, that is where the Republicans are coming from, so much legislation that we send over that no action is being take on. … They feel compelled that this [unemployment insurance extension bill] is the only thing they can attach it to.”  

Heller said he agrees with Boehner that the Senate has wrongly ignored House efforts to boost the economy.  

“But today we have a problem,” he said. “Those are long-term fixes. … But the critical thing today is that we help those 34,000 in Nevada and 2.6 million across the country that need relief today.”  

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who joined Heller at the news conference, added that he believes Boehner and Republicans are just rationalizing their inaction. Boehner had previously called a five-month, Senate-passed extension impossible to implement and unworkable.  

“It’s an excuse, not a good reason,” Reed said, adding there is no reason why the jobs creation proposals have to come from the White House.  

“The House is capable of generating ideas and policies. … They do it all the time,” Reed said.  

Both Heller and Reed urged the House to approve the Senate-passed bill, which would extend unemployment insurance benefits for five months retroactive to when they expired last year.  

The cost of the bill is fully offset using a combination of revenue raisers that includes extending “pension smoothing” provisions from the 2012 highway bill and extending customs user fees through 2024.  

Failing that, they urged the House to pass any extension that could be reconciled with the Senate bill.  

But time is running out. Reed and Heller will have to draft a new bill in June if no action is taken on the Senate bill.  

“Time is of the essence,” Heller said.  

Heller, a former House member, has also reached out to other House Republicans, including Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas, who has shown interest in the matter. Sessions said he backs Boehner’s position that the measure should be paid for and that it include job growth provisions.  

“That’s where I am,” he said, adding that he spoke to Heller Wednesday.  

Heller stressed that Sessions is not representing GOP leadership in the talks.  

Also Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., ripped Republicans for moving ahead with a new tax cut that would add to the deficit without acting on the paid-for unemployment benefits extension or an immigration overhaul.
Matt Fuller and Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
Related stories: 

Obama Pressures GOP on Unemployment Extension

Reid, Heller Still Hope for House Action on Unemployment Extension

Senate Passes Unemployment Benefits Extension

Unemployment Extension Vote Not Worrying House Republicans

Boehner Still Cool to Senate Unemployment Extension Bill

Unemployment Extension Fight Pits Portman Against Boehner

Doctors Win, Jobless Lose: The GOP Confronts New Perception Problem

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