Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 | 3:06 p.m.
With the Senate moving forward to try to extend unemployment benefits, Nevada’s House members are working on Republican Speaker John Boehner, insisting that he let his colleagues vote on a similar measure.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., marked the House of Representatives’ return to Washington on Tuesday by sending a letter to Boehner, insisting that he schedule a vote on extending benefits.
“I am writing to urge you to immediately bring before the U.S. House of Representatives legislation to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program,” Titus wrote. “If Congress does not extend EUC, hardship will only increase for families in Nevada and around the country. Extending EUC is both a moral imperative and the economically smart choice.”
Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., then joined with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a conference Wednesday to amplify the message.
“It’s time for us to do our job,” Horsford said, referring to specific cases of his constituents who had lost their benefits because of the lapse. “No one wants to live on this program forever, and none of them, none of them are lazy. ... My constituents cannot afford any delays.”
Before the holiday break, Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., had also signed a letter to Boehner imploring him to bring an unemployment bill to the floor.
Boehner has not been categorically opposed to the idea of bringing up such legislation. Funding for emergency benefits expired Dec. 28. About 17,000 Nevadans are affected.
But Boehner has insisted that any extension of benefits, even a temporary one, must be paid for and include provisions to increase the availability of jobs.
“To date, the president has offered no such plan,” Boehner said in a statement released Tuesday, shortly after the Senate voted to move ahead with an unadorned three-month extension. “If he does, I’ll be happy to discuss it, but right now the House is going to remain focused on growing the economy and giving America’s unemployed the independence that only comes from finding a good job.”
That leaves Congress in a bit of a bind. Nevada’s representatives are largely united behind the idea that unemployment benefits must be extended, pay-fors or not. Republican Sen. Dean Heller co-wrote the bill, which doesn't contain cost offsets, that’s currently under consideration in the Senate.
But that bipartisan spirit does not transcend across the rest of Congress.
Though the Senate bill offers no pay-fors to offset the estimated $6.5 billion cost, its fate likely rests on senators being able to find some reasonable ones, and quick: Most of the six Republican senators who voted to proceed with the bill Tuesday said they would not continue to support it unless offsets are included before the next vote that can be filibustered.
Those and other Republican senators have proposed offsets ranging from a one-year repeal of the individual health care mandate to a measure to prevent immigrants without legal authorization to be in the United States from taking advantage of a child tax credit.
Heller said Tuesday he thinks another proposal, to make it impossible for jobless workers to claim both unemployment and disability insurance simultaneously, was the most likely way forward.
But neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nor President Barack Obama like the idea of hinging what they see as an emergency measure like unemployment benefits on cost offsets — and both are putting the onus on Republicans to come up with something Democrats can live with.
Meanwhile in the House, Nevada’s representatives are being careful not to insist that the House take up the Senate bill specifically as they press Boehner to put unemployment legislation on the floor.
“I urge Speaker Boehner to follow the Senate’s lead and bring a bill to the floor that restores the security to the millions of Americans struggling to keep their families afloat as they look for a new job,” Titus wrote.
“Whether that is a Senate-passed bill with an opportunity for amendment, or a separate House measure is up to House leaders,” Heck spokesman Greg Lemon said about his boss on Wednesday. “But he believes action should be take on this critical issue.”