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October 24, 2014

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Nevada Sen. Dean Heller can’t get House Republicans to back unemployment bill

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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 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.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, the Senate’s champion for extending long-term unemployment benefits, didn’t appear to get very far in his push Tuesday to get House Republicans on board.

With time running out to get something to the president’s desk, the Nevada Republican spoke by phone with House Speaker John Boehner, where he asked the speaker to bring a Senate-passed bill extending benefits up for a vote in the House.

“He encouraged the Speaker to allow the unemployment insurance extension legislation to move forward in the House, making the case that this bill is not just important for Nevada, but for the entire country,” said Heller’s communications director, Chandler Smith.

But Boehner didn’t budge, telling Heller the House is working on its own plan that would include job-creating measures, a major theme for House Republicans this spring.

“The speaker … told him the same thing he has told the White House since before Christmas: We are willing to look at a plan that is paid for and includes something to help create jobs,” said Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a bill extending unemployment benefits for people who have been unemployed six months or longer, a bipartisan effort led by Heller and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. Even though the bill complies with Republican demands to pay for the increase spending, it is still a hard sell in the House.

Boehner has said he’ll support unemployment benefits only if they’re paired with job-creating measures, and House Republican leaders didn’t put unemployment benefits on the chamber’s spring agenda.

In addition, time is running out. The Senate bill, which pays for retroactive benefits, expires June 1.

Heller, ever aware of the time crunch, told reporters before talking to Boehner “I want the House to move on this right away.”

House Democrats joined in Heller’s push Tuesday.

Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan submitted a letter to Boehner urging him to take up the Senate bill for a vote.

The letter included stories from unemployed Americans across the nation who relied on long-term federal benefits, including a 55-year-old Republican named Mitch from Henderson, who wrote “I have gone to bed hungry more than once. … Come May I am out of ideas and not much left to sell.”

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