House refuses to be ‘bullied’ by Senate bill for extending unemployment benefits

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Senators approved a five-month extension of long-term unemployment benefits Monday and Democrats said they hoped the vote would put pressure on the House, but strategists said House Republicans have shown they won’t be “bullied” into following the Senate’s lead.

With a two-week Easter recess looming, this week is considered critical for meaningful congressional action.

Benefits expired at the end of last year, and the five-month extension would last only through May.

“The question is this: whether this House will also act or will it leave town and leave America’s job seekers in the lurch,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, Michigan Democrat. “I have no doubt we will do the right thing and act.”

Six Republicans sided with all members of the Democratic caucus in the 59-38 vote in the Senate.

Republican strategists said their party’s House members are holding firm after the Senate repeatedly ignored its own work.

“When the Senate passes something, it supposedly puts pressure on the House, but when the House passes something, [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid doesn’t feel any pressure to take it up. We’re finally seeing the House say, ‘We’re not going to be bullied by the Senate,’ and it’s about time. There is no pressure,” said Dan Holler, a spokesman for Heritage Action.

Democrats had been trying for months to get unemployment benefits approved but struggled to come up with offsetting cuts. Finally, they cobbled together a package acceptable to a handful of Republicans, which helped them clear a GOP-led filibuster and waive budget rules.

More than 2 million people stand to benefit from the federal benefits, which would expire again June 1.

The bill includes some reforms to the unemployment insurance program, but Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said he would support a bill only if it includes more job-creation measures. He also cited criticism from states that the Senate plan would be too difficult administratively to reinstate the program for such a short time.

“As the speaker said months ago, we are willing to look at extending emergency unemployment insurance as long as it includes provisions to help create more private-sector jobs. But last week, Senate Democratic leaders ruled out adding any jobs measures at all,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner. “The American people are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ and House Republicans are focused on our jobs agenda for families and small businesses.”

Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist, said he was surprised because he thought it would be easier for Republicans to just hold a vote and take away Democrats’ talking points.

“By all accounts, House leaders and many rank-and-file members of the caucus aren’t feeling the kind of pressure that would force them to take a vote to extend the unemployment insurance benefits,” he said. “I think they feel they can get by without voting on it and not suffer any political consequences.”

If the Democratic strategy of putting pressure on the House with action in the Senate doesn’t work, there aren’t many options open to Democrats, Mr. Manley said.

“Under the rules of the House it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for members of the minority to force votes,” he said.

Ron Bonjean, a Republican strategist, said Democrats may be able to get more Republicans onboard by attaching job-creation measures to the bill. Some Republican senators introduced amendments they said would create jobs, such as approving the Keystone XL pipeline, but Mr. Reid blocked all amendments.

“Right now, most House Republicans are not hearing about this issue back in their districts. They’re hearing about Obamacare and job creation and the need to grow the economy,” Mr. Bonjean said. “They’re not feeling the political pressure Democrats claim is happening.”

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