Reid appeals for votes to extend jobless benefits

WASHINGTON — Senate leader Harry Reid on Sunday sought to pressure Republicans to support extending unemployment benefits that expired over the holidays for 1.3 million jobseekers.

A day before he has scheduled a key procedural vote, Reid indicated he still is seeking votes from Republican senators to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to advance a three-month extension.

While 55 members of the Democratic caucus are expected to vote for the bill, only Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada has signed on the GOP side.

“It would seem to me that five Republicans in the Senate could agree with Republicans around the country. Republicans around the country want us to do something to extend these benefits.” Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, said during an interview on “Face the Nation.”

Reid usually makes only one appearance early each year on the network Sunday talk shows. This year he accepted an invitation from the CBS program embarking on its 60th year on the air.

But as Congress prepares to kick off its 2014 session on Monday, Reid showed no letup in his usual strong rhetoric about Republican lawmakers.

He described the GOP caucuses as unduly influenced by tea party forces and out of touch with party members outside the Beltway on issues like extending jobless benefits, increasing the minimum wage and requiring background checks for most gun purchases.

“I’m not here to badmouth Republicans around the country,” Reid said. “I have a lot of support from Republicans in Nevada and always have had. But they are mainstream Repbulicans. They are not driven by this craziness we have in America today.”

Reid said he was not encouraged the tenor on Capitol Hill will change from last year’s session that was acknowledged to be among the least productive in history.

“Unless the Republicans in Congress decide they should do something for the American people, I’m sorry to say that’s true,” Reid said.

Also appearing on the program, Republican Reps. Matt Salmon of Arizona and Peter King of New York said Reid’s remarks only set the stage for less compromise and more conflict.

“I think it’s interesting that Senator Reid spent his entire time just blaming Republicans for everything, every calamity in the world and not really offering any solutions,” Salmon said. “I think that’s why the American people think Congress is so dysfunctional, because it’s just partisan politics.”

“I was very disappointed,” King said. “If he is going to be talking from day one that is the wrong way to start, the wrong message to send.”

Republican leaders are insisting that any extension in unemployment benefits must be accompanied by corresponding cuts elsewhere, or new revenues. A three-month extension is estimated to cost $6.5 billion while a year-long continuation of the program woudl cost around $26 billion.

“The fact is, these giveaway programs don’t create one job,” Salmon said. “The answer isn’t government. The answer is the private sector. Let’s get it going again.” He said the Democrat-controlled Senate has ignored House-passed bills that Republicans say will help create jobs.

Federal unemployment benefits for 1.3 million jobseekers — including 17,600 Nevadans — expired on Dec. 28. The legislation sponsored by Heller and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., would make fresh payments retroactive to that date.

On the program, Reid said GOP obstruction led him to change Senate rules in November to do away with filibusters on federal judges and executive branch job confirmations, a controversial move that has inflamed Republicans.

Pressed by host Bob Schieffer, Reid said he was not considering broadening the filibuster ban to cover legislation as well.

“We are not there yet,” Reid said. “I am not thinking about it today.” But, he added, “everyone should understand the country cannot continue the road it is on.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow @STetreaultDC on Twitter