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January 27, 2022

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Heller: ‘Votes just aren’t there’ to extend jobless benefits

Dean Heller

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., second from left, accompanied by fellow Senate Republicans, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, where they discussed their concerns about the political fight over legislation to restore benefits to long-term jobless workers. From left are, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Heller, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind.

As Congress tries to wrap two years of work into about two weeks, extending unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed Americans won’t be on lawmakers’ to-do list.

A majority of lawmakers don’t feel the need to extend benefits, even temporarily, after Congress let the measure expire about a year ago, said Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada who’s been leading the push for an extension.

“I think at this point, leadership on both sides realize the votes just aren’t there,” Heller said Tuesday. He noted that unemployment rates are improving across the nation and Nevada.

Nevada’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent as of Nov. 21, no longer the highest in the nation.

The extended benefits expired in December 2013 after Congress agreed to a budget deal that ended a government shutdown. Standard benefits run out after 26 weeks.

In early 2014, Heller teamed up with Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island, to reinstate extended benefits. Nevada’s unemployment rate was the highest in the nation, at 13 percent, when Heller was re-elected in 2012.

The freshman senator managed to convince five fellow Senate Republicans to vote for the bill, which passed the Senate in April.

It was a feat many thought impossible.

“I don’t think anybody believed that I could get enough Republicans to deliver on that,” Heller said in August. “And there were times I questioned it.”

The bill, however, expired and never made it to a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

In June, Heller and Reed introduced another version of the bill, but there’s been no action on it.

That pattern will likely hold when Republicans take the Senate in January. Many in the party are ideologically opposed to expanding federal spending, especially as the economy improves.

Congressional watchers like John Hudak, a government studies expert at the nonprofit Brookings Institution, say that probably means it’s the end of the road for federal long-term unemployment benefits.

“I don’t see any possible path forward for accomplishing that again,” Hudak said.

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