WASHINGTON — Congress departed Thursday for a weeklong break with no solution in sight for Americans whose federal unemployment checks stopped arriving late last month.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said new talks are underway in a bid to extend jobless benefits that expired Dec. 28, creating uncertainty and hardship for more than 1.4 million jobseekers, including more than 17,000 in Nevada.
“Doors are still open,” Heller said. “I am hoping for a breakthrough.”
Separately Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, “We have not forgotten this.”
He said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is his emissary to the talks.
With Nevada holding the highest unemployment rate, along with Rhode Island, at 9 percent, the state’s senators have emerged as leading figures in the debate over aid to the long-term unemployed.
But while negotiations may be going on privately, in public there still is a lot of saber-rattling after efforts to reach compromise over the past two weeks repeatedly crashed and burned along partisan lines.
The sides remain far apart on the key matter of whether and how the cost of extending benefits should be offset by new revenues or budget cuts. The cost of a retroactive three-month extension is about $6.5 billion, while a proposed 11-month extension costs about $18 billion.
Senators continued to trade barbs Thursday before going home for a weeklong recess tied to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
That means it could be well into February before a Senate solution is found. And that doesn’t count action that would be necessary by the House of Representatives
At a press conference, Reid charged anew that GOP senators were filibustering Democrat efforts to help people. He said he hoped Republicans get an earful from constituents next week.
“Let them explain to people in their respective states how they did this,” Reid said. He said it was “asinine” for Republicans to suggest that Democrats want the benefit extension to fail so it can be used as ammunition in this year’s elections.
Heller said jobless Nevadans want help and “don’t care about politics at this point.”
A new Republican bill Heller introduced Thursday would extend benefits for three months, paid for with a budget cut offset. Supporters said it would be acceptable to House Republican leaders as well.
“This is nothing but a political issue,” Heller said. “When Democrats get serious, I told them they have the votes” by passing the Republican bill.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.