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September 14, 2014

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Sen. Dean Heller making new push for extended unemployment benefits

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., is once again trying to restore federal benefits for the long-term unemployed, after his last approach failed to pass Congress.

“What I was hoping would be a sprint has become a marathon,” Heller said at a joint news conference Tuesday with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to announce new legislation.

The senators are starting from scratch this week after their legislation to extend benefits for five months passed the Senate in April but expired June 1 without the House of Representatives ever picking it up.

Heller and Reed, representing two states hardest hit by the recession, have been trying to extend federal unemployment benefits since Congress let the program expire in December as part of a budget deal.

This new round of legislation has some changes. For one, it doesn’t provide retroactive benefits, which means Nevadans who lost their benefits in December won’t get a lump-sum payment for those lost months.

Heller said he’s disappointed with the change, but political realities made it necessary.

House Republicans are demanding the roughly $10 billion bill be paid for up front (its paid for with pension cuts in a transportation bill). They’re concerned about the administrative challenges of paying recipients in a lump sum (so Heller and Reed removed retroactive benefits). And they’re demanding any extension of benefits be paired with job-creating legislation (Heller and House Republicans are calling on the president to propose legislation).

“It’s the best we can do under the circumstances,” Heller said, adding he agrees with many of their demands.

Reed was less forgiving.

“There are lots of our colleagues in Congress who don’t want to act, and we’ve heard lots of excuses,” he said.

The legislation also doesn’t have an expiration date, meaning Heller and Reed aren’t up against a deadline like they were last time to get the bill passed.

That’s a good thing, because the bill’s future remains as uncertain as ever.

Heller is trying to balance a lot of different variables: He’s working to get four or five of his Republican colleagues in the Senate to vote for the bill, but he said Tuesday their support would be buoyed by House Republicans bringing it up for a vote.

He’s also working with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to try to squeeze the legislation into a full Senate schedule before the August recess.

Still, Heller and Reed remain hopeful they’ll get their legislation signed by the president by the end of this year.

“We’re not giving up,” Heller said.

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