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July 23, 2014

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Heller on extending unemployment benefits: ‘We’re not giving up’

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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.

WASHINGTON — In April, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller’s bipartisan bill to restore federal benefits for long-term unemployed Americans passed the Senate.

But no amount of cajoling or debate could convince Republican leaders in the House to take up the bill he co-authored, and on Sunday its expiration date quietly passed.

Now, Heller is starting from scratch again to try to get 2 million Americans retroactive federal benefits that Congress let expire in December.

“We don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel at this point,” a resigned Heller said today.

Heller said the political landscape isn’t any more receptive to extending unemployment benefits.

Any potential deal would still be stalled by members of his party in the House, who have said they want President Barack Obama to propose job-creating legislation in exchange for Congress taking up unemployment benefits.

“Until we see some spark of interest on the other side, it makes it very, very difficult to convince our conferences to move forward on it,” Heller said.

Heller has been working with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., to restore long-term unemployment benefits. The two senators represent some of the states hardest hit by long-term unemployment.

Heller remains hopeful he’ll find a piece of legislation he can attach a new unemployment-related amendment to and that it would pass the Senate again. The House, he said, is anyone’s guess.

“We’re not giving up,” he said. “We just need interest on the other side to convince our colleagues over there.”

Heller is also fighting more immediately to get a vote on another of his proposals: a bill to help reduce disability claims backlogs for veterans. The Senate could take up legislation aimed at reforming the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Agency as soon as Thursday, and Heller hopes his colleagues will consider his proposal.

Nevada’s VA office in Reno has some of the highest claims backlogs in the nation, with an average wait time of 452.9 days.

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