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December 20, 2014

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Politics:

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller ramps up pressure to get unemployment bill passed

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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.

With time running out to get millions of long-term unemployed Americans federal help, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller is reversing some of his earlier strategies he’s tried in getting House Republican leaders to get his bill passed.

“We need to look for long-term plans to get people back to work, but we also need to help those today that are out of work that are actively looking for work,” Heller said during a press conference he called Thursday to put pressure on his Republican colleagues in the House leadership.

Heller co-authored the Senate bill to extend federal long-term unemployment benefits through June 1. The bill passed the Senate in April but it has since languished in the House.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has stalled the bill because he wants to add job-creating measures.

A month ago, Heller said he was willing to compromise with House Republicans by adding unrelated legislation to the Senate bill so it could get through the House.

“If they wanted to look at some of the issues like the immediate growth in jobs … if they wanted to look at some of the trade agreements,” Heller told reporters April 3. “I don’t want to get too far outside the scope to something untenable or unworkable. But I’m open to ideas.”

But Boehner has yet to bring the Senate version to a vote, instead demanding President Barack Obama propose job-creating measures Boehner can attach to an unemployment bill.

Heller said in a press conference Thursday he thinks that’s the wrong course of action.

Legislation that creates jobs in the long term won’t help the estimated 2.6 million Americans and 36,000 Nevada residents who have been out of work for months and need help today, he said.

“In my mind, I separate the two issues,” he said of short-term unemployment benefits and long-term job creation programs. “And I would certainly urge the House to do the same.”

Heller did say he’s open to House Republicans' ideas on how an unemployment bill would shape up.

In December, Congress let expire a program that kicks in federal benefits for someone who’s been unemployed longer than six months, which is when most state benefits run out.

The Senate bill passed in April would retroactively reinstate those benefits from January through June 1. Heller worked with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on a bill that satisfied Senate Republicans’ demands to pay for extra spending.

But despite phone calls with Boehner and other House leaders, Heller hasn’t been able to get his bill up for a House vote.

Heller has avoided criticizing Boehner directly. Boehner in turn has stayed mum on Heller’s bill and prefers instead to focus his criticism on the president for not providing Congress job-creating legislation.

Heller said he hopes this unemployment debate helps change an election-year narrative that seems more focused on finger pointing than getting legislation passed.

“I certainly want to change that narrative,” he said. “That’s my goal.”

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