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Obama Push Needed for Unemployment Extension, Republican Says

(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., wants President Barack Obama to get more involved with talks to revive an unemployment extension, as he continues to urge his GOP House colleagues to act.  

“The president needs to get more involved in this discussion right now,” Heller said Tuesday. “I know it’s important to him. … I do believe that if the president would be more engaged on this particular topic we could get something done.” The junior Nevada senator has been working with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on a bipartisan proposal that would renew long-term unemployment benefits after they expired in December. Nevada and Rhode Island have the two highest unemployment rates in the nation.  

He said talks are ongoing, but declined to provide many details, other than that the measure would not likely be retroactive, in part because the unemployment rate has been trending downward.  

“It would probably have to be a prospective UI bill until the end of the year or for a full year,” Heller said.  

Heller’s comments come after he had dinner Monday night with some Republican House and Senate members, including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. A former House member, Heller remains close with his former colleagues.  

An unemployment extension “is always a topic of discussion; as to what they think they could live with,” Heller said, adding that there was “shallow support” for an unemployment benefits bill at this point.  

House Republicans, led by Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, have been unwilling to consider extending benefits, in part, because the Democrat-run Senate has not considered any of the job creation legislation that House Republicans have sent to the chamber. Boehner has repeatedly called on Obama to propose a new package — something that has not happened.  

“The House’s position is that the president needs to step up with an agreed-to job creation [provision] in the bill,” Heller said. “And he hasn’t done it at this point and that has been Speaker’s position all along and they remain in that particular position.”  

Obama does not appear to have called Boehner or otherwise gotten directly involved on the issue, beyond sending out tweets and urging his followers to contact Congress.  

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was pressed on the the topic Monday.  

“There’s only one reason this hasn’t gotten done. … Congressional Republicans in both the Senate and the House have blocked it,” he said.  

Earlier this week, Democratic Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan proposed attaching a six-month, prospective extension to either the highway bill or the tax cut measures moving through Congress this summer .  

Heller said he has also been urging his House colleagues to pass an extension bill, including whatever sweeteners are needed to get the votes.  

“I tell them ‘I don’t care, just pass something, get it over here, we’ll negotiate it in conference,’ ” Heller said. “Get what you want in the bill, do whatever the House has to do.”  

Asked what the House would want, Heller speculated that it could include a repeal of the medical device tax, which is a funding mechanism for the Affordable Care Act.  

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.
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