With less than a month remaining before the extension proposed in their bill would expire, Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I. and Dean Heller, R-Nev., pressed their colleagues in the House to focus on fixing the urgent, short-term problem of assisting those who had exhausted their short-term unemployment rather than insisting on tying it long-term jobs measures.
"They’re running out of savings, they’re running out of options, and they’re running out of time," Reed said, of the 2.6 million unemployed Americans who would have been eligible for benefits had they not expired in December.
Heller, noting that his state and Reed's were among the hardest hit, said long-term unemployment was a problem that was only getting worse as the recovery left the those affected behind.
Heller said he met with Boehner on Wednesday, and though Boehner said he was interested in passing an extension, he insisted the White House move on some of the jobs bills passed by House Republicans first.
But Reed accused Boehner of making excuses because he and conservatives in the House believe unemployment benefits and other welfare programs remove people's desire to work for themselves.
"Some in the house have suggested that it's really a disincentive to work," he said, "when in fact, my sense in going around Rhode Island is people desperately want to work and they desperately need some help just to keep the lights on and put gas in the car and the telephone that they can respond to job requests and job interviews."
The Reed-Heller plan, which passed the Senate early last month, would extend benefits to the long-term jobless through the end of May, and retroactively pay out those benefits to those who were qualified since the previous extension expired in December.
Both Senators said they would have preferred an extension of a year, but opted for five months because it could be offset entirely "pension-smoothing" provisions from a 2012 highway bill and extending customs user fees through 2024.
As a Republican in the Senate, Heller admitted the burden of convincing his the majority GOP had fallen mostly to him, but said he was up for the task.
"I have pretty broad shoulders, as you can tell," he said.
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