- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2014

House Democrats on Thursday demanded that Congress cancel its recess next week and stay on Capitol Hill to work on reviving benefits for the long-term unemployed, but Senate Democratic leaders said it makes more sense for lawmakers to go home and hear the stories from struggling jobless voters.

“I think it’s probably a pretty good idea that the senators go home,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Explain to the American people and people in their states that they’re opposing unemployment insurance because, I repeat for the third time here this morning, I’m mean to them, that they don’t like the pay-for even though it’s a pay-for that Paul Ryan came up with. Excuses have run out.”

A standoff over reviving the expired benefits shows no sign of ending, but House and Senate Democrats agree that attacking congressional Republicans over the stalemate makes for good politics.

Federal long-term unemployment benefits, which the jobless receive once state benefits end, expired Dec. 28 and affected about 1.5 million people. Republicans say they are ready to renew the benefits, but that they should be offset with savings elsewhere in the federal budget.

Senate Democrats‘ first attempt to extend the benefits without cuts fell victim to a Republican filibuster Tuesday. The Republican-controlled House has not taken up a bill and has no plans to do so.

“I told the president, now a month and a half ago, that if they had a plan to extend emergency unemployment benefits, I’d consider it, as long it was paid for and if there were provisions we could agree to that would help expand the economy and create more jobs,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, told reporters.

He added, “I think it’s probably a pretty good idea that the senators go home” for a little while.

The Senate Democrats‘ latest proposal would extend benefits for 11 months and add more than $17 billion to the deficit, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Republican senators proposed several alternatives, including a three-month extension that also would eliminate a cut to military retirement benefits that was included in last month’s bipartisan budget deal. Republicans suggested funding their plan by cutting other spending over the next 10 years.

Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Democrats would continue the fight and the Senate would vote again once Congress returns to Washington after an 11-day recess.

“When we return, there will be another vote. We’ll have another opportunity for the Republicans, if they’re listening, to come join us on what used to be a very bipartisan issue,” he said.

The break also will give Democrats a chance to hear more stories from people in their districts who are hurting without the insurance. Sen. Cory A. Booker, New Jersey Democrat, spoke at an event Thursday where Democrats brought in two beneficiaries of federal relief who spoke of their hardships.

“It is offensive to many people to look at their Congress leaving, but I’m going to join so many other senators and Congress people going back to my district as we have already to amplify the voices of individual Americans and bring them back,” Mr. Booker said.

House Democrats said they would rather be in town to try to force a vote in their chamber.

Rep. Gary C. Peters, Michigan Democrat, collected more than 100 signatures from fellow Democrats on a petition asking Mr. Boehner to cancel the recess.

Separately, the Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000, a sign that layoffs are weighing less on the job market and economic growth.

The expiration of long-term benefits could lead to further declines in the national unemployment rate, currently at 6.7 percent, by perhaps as much as a quarter of a percentage point early this year. That’s because many of the unemployed will give up on job searches, which are required to receive benefits.

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