Despite Senate Optimism on Unemployment Insurance, House Passage Remains Murky

The Senate could pass an extension next week, but until Boehner gets on board, it’s not going anywhere.

Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) listens during a news conference after a House Republicans Conference meeting December 3, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
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Sarah Mimms
March 4, 2014, midnight

As more than 1 mil­lion Amer­ic­ans enter their third month without un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance be­ne­fits, sen­at­ors have be­gun ex­press­ing in­creased op­tim­ism that their cham­ber will soon pass an ex­ten­sion that re­stores checks for the long-term un­em­ployed.

But left out of that con­ver­sa­tion is the House, where little has changed since the ma­jor­ity party re­fused to al­low a vote on the is­sue at the end of last year, al­low­ing the be­ne­fits to ex­pire on Dec. 28.

While House Demo­crat­ic lead­er­ship con­tin­ues to fo­cus on ex­tend­ing in­sur­ance, there has been little move­ment among House Re­pub­lic­ans. Speak­er John Boehner has re­peatedly called for the White House to pro­duce a pack­age that would not only off­set the cost of ex­tend­ing the pro­gram, but also in­clude a new jobs ini­ti­at­ive such as ap­prov­al of the Key­stone pipeline. Pres­id­ent Obama has signaled his strong sup­port for ex­tend­ing the be­ne­fits, but the White House has largely taken a back seat in the ne­go­ti­ations, leav­ing those con­ver­sa­tions to con­gres­sion­al Demo­crats.

The Sen­ate is cur­rently at work on a pack­age that would ex­tend the be­ne­fits for six months. But, when ac­count­ing for ret­ro­act­ive pay, the pro­gram would likely ex­pire again in June. Sen­ate Demo­crats have agreed to pur­sue some kind of fin­an­cial off­set, but have yet to so­lid­i­fy around what the pay-for will be, as they seek a fifth Re­pub­lic­an sen­at­or to sign on to the deal. But a sep­ar­ate jobs ini­ti­at­ive has not been pur­sued.

The Sen­ate was slated to take up an ex­ten­sion pack­age this week, but that vote will likely be delayed un­til early next week be­cause of the D.C. snowstorm.

House Demo­crats in­sist they could find the votes to pass an ex­ten­sion, but the ques­tion re­mains wheth­er House lead­er­ship will al­low the bill to come to the floor at all. “If you bring the UI bill to the floor, it would pass.”¦ Just give us a vote,” Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi ar­gued last week.

But House Re­pub­lic­ans do not ex­pect to have to face the is­sue at all. The pos­tur­ing over un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance is a po­ten­tially win­ning elec­tion-year mes­sage for Demo­crats, and Re­pub­lic­ans say they see few signs that their col­leagues are ser­i­ously work­ing to pass the le­gis­la­tion through both cham­bers.

While Sen­ate ne­go­ti­at­ors con­tin­ue to work to cobble to­geth­er a 60-vote ma­jor­ity of their own, there is cur­rently no dis­cus­sion on the is­sue with House lead­ers, who hold the fate of the ex­ten­sion in their hands.

None of the sen­at­ors in­volved in the on­go­ing un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance talks — in either party — has reached out to Boehner to dis­cuss the pos­sib­il­ity of House pas­sage, ac­cord­ing to spokes­per­son Brendan Buck. Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has not dis­cussed the is­sue with the speak­er either.

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