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October 20, 2014

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Politics:

Republican Dean Heller wants to extend unemployment benefits. Mark Amodei doesn’t. Here’s why.

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and other Senate Republicans discuss their concerns about the political fight over legislation to restore benefits to long-term jobless workers, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. From left behind Sen. Heller are Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Sen. Dean Heller has invested months lobbying his colleagues to extend benefits for unemployed Americans.

In a rare feat of bipartisanship, Republicans and Democrats from Nevada’s six-person delegation have backed Heller’s effort to renew benefits for the long-term unemployed after Congress let the program expire in December.

The bill has become personal for Heller because Nevada’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 7.9 percent, the second highest in the country. “This year has been extremely difficult for Nevadans who still do not know how they are going to pay their bills or feed their families,” Heller said in a recent press conference.

But there has been one noticeable holdout from Nevada’s delegation: Republican Rep. Mark Amodei.

Amodei, who represents Reno and Carson City, didn’t support extending the benefits when it passed the Senate and died in the House this spring, and he isn’t sure he’ll join in this time, either.

Amodei’s opposition falls in line with House Speaker John Boehner. Despite Heller’s repeated calls on Boehner for support, the Ohio Republican hasn’t brought the bill to a House vote.

Amodei, like Boehner, said he’s inclined to support unemployment benefits only when it’s part of a bigger package to create jobs. Just sending unemployed Nevadans a check won’t help them get jobs, Amodei said.

“Let’s get some depth instead of going, ‘Hey, here’s six months more benefits, no questions asked,’” Amodei said in an interview. “Am I really helping them? I mean, I understand what six months of paying the bills means, but it’s like, at the end of the six months, how have you changed the needle in terms of those people becoming employable?”

Amodei and his staff point to legislation that passed Congress to modernize local workforce training boards as a more constructive use of lawmakers’ time.

“This is one of the few things that’s actually going to become law this Congress, and it’s going to have a direct impact on actually putting people back to work,” said Amodei’s spokesperson, Brian Baluta.

Amodei said the House is also working on plenty of job-creating bills to help Nevadans that the Senate has yet to take up. His bill to expedite federal mining permits, which could boost mining jobs, passed the House in September but isn’t being debated in the Senate, for example.

Heller doesn’t blame Amodei.

“I think it’s a fair concern that he has,” said Heller, who has been careful not to criticize House Republicans who want conditions attached to the benefits.

While Amodei has been clear in his opposition, Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, of Las Vegas, and Steven Horsford, of North Las Vegas, are the original co-sponsors of a matching bill in the House of Representatives. Democrat Sen. Harry Reid helped Heller get his bill through the Senate in April and has said he'll support Heller's next attempt.

Rep. Joe Heck, a Republican representing Henderson and Boulder City, also has supported Heller​ and even sent a letter to House leaders calling for a vote.

Even with Nevada’s support, unemployment benefits face major hurdles: It’s not clear if Reid will bring it up for a vote in the Senate before the November elections. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that Boehner won’t allow a vote in the House.

But Heller will continue to try to get the votes -- with or without Amodei's support.

"I'm not giving up," he said.

Click to enlarge photo

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