WASHINGTON -- It's entirely up to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) whether 2.6 million unemployed Americans get their benefits back, at least according to the two senators most involved in legislation to restore the compensation.
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday, Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the principal co-sponsors of an unemployment insurance restoration bill that passed the Senate last month, rejected Boehner's suggestion that the House bill can only pass if the White House offers concessions.
"There are Republican members who are on our side," Heller said. "I realize who's in the majority over there [...] and if it takes convincing, I'll continue to try working with the speaker and anybody on either side of the aisle in the House of Representatives to try and move something forward."
Boehner has repeatedly stated his objections to the Senate bill, which cleared the upper chamber in April. The speaker recently added that the only way he would consider the measure would be if the White House came up with jobs provisions to include in the bill.
Reed and Heller disagreed with Boehner's rationale, pointing out that their legislation would create jobs and was also paid for in accordance with the requests of Republicans in both chambers.
"It's an excuse and not a good reason," Reed said. "The House is capable of generating ideas, policies and procedures. They do it all the time."
"Rather than looking down at Pennsylvania Ave., they should look back to every district in this country and look at people struggling," he added.
Heller said he understood the frustration among House Republicans that many of their proposals are also dead on arrival in the Senate. But he insisted that the passage of unemployment benefits should not hinge on the inclusion of unrelated House priorities.
"They believe that they have offered numerous working programs and legislation [...] on energy development, reforms to the Affordable Care Act, tax reform and some of those issues which they believe are comparative to get people back to work," Heller said.
Heller added that while he agreed with his colleagues in the House on the need for such measures, he sees them as longer-term fixes to address another day.
"I would argue and urge them to separate those two issues," said Heller. "This is two different issues [...] The critical thing today is those 34,000 in Nevada [who would benefit from the legislation], and 2.6 million across the country that need relief today."
The hour is growing late for a five-month reauthorization of unemployment insurance that expired more than four months ago. The Heller-sponsored legislation, which has languished since passing the Senate last month, would restore benefits to 2.6 million long-term jobless workers. If the House bill were passed tomorrow, state workforce agencies would need to scramble to figure out which former claimants would still be eligible and how many weeks' worth of back pay they should get. Then, at the end of the month, the program would once again expire.
Meanwhile, some people who were counting on the compensation to pay their basic expenses have already been evicted.
House Republicans, including Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas), have suggested pairing the benefits with business tax breaks and sending the package back to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), however, has shown little enthusiasm for most of the Republicans' alternate unemployment ideas.
Heller had pleaded his case during a phone call with Boehner on Monday, but the speaker didn't budge. On Wednesday, Heller turned to Sessions. Nothing has yet materialized from that exchange, but Sessions' office has said the congressman is open to ideas.
"It's time for the House to do their work and just send us something," Heller told Politico. "That's what I told Pete, that's my message even to the speaker. Send us something."
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