On unemployment bill, Heller breaks a sweat

Never let it be said that U.S. Sen. Dean Heller phoned it in when it came to the push to extend unemployment insurance benefits.

Heller understandably broke party ranks when he first came out for extending the benefits in a bill co-sponsored by Rhode Island Democrat Sen. Jack Reed. (Rhode Island and Nevada still have among the highest unemployment rates in the nation.) Both senators worked to get the bill passed in the Senate, where just four of Heller’s fellow Republicans joined them in voting yes.

But the bill is stalled in the House, where Heller served before he was appointed, and then elected, to the Senate. And while he could have left things in the hands of his House colleagues, Heller instead personally called House Speaker John Boehner to ask that the Senate bill be given a vote on the floor. Unfortunately, Boehner blew Heller off.

(Remarkably, that’s more than Rep. Joe Heck has done. Heck has signed a letter asking Boehner for a vote, but refuses to sign a discharge petition to get the matter to the floor. Asked why, Heck’s spokesman Greg Lemon failed to provide a direct answer, saying only that “Congressman Heck believes the best way to enact important policies is through the regular floor process, not procedural gimmicks.” But signing the petition would get the bill on the floor, where it would undergo the regular floor process.)

Still not content to the letter the matter rest, Heller today said he’s looking for a bill popular with Republicans to attach the unemployment insurance measure, such as tax cuts.

“We are taking a look at favorable pieces of legislation out there that we can attach something to,” Heller said, according to Roll Call.

The activism is not without political risk for Heller. On the one hand, he’s surely angering some fellow Republicans. His name on the bill lends it a bipartisan status that makes it harder for Republicans to dismiss. And his high-profile activism makes it harder to put the bill in a drawer until the pressure to pass it dies down.

On the other hand, taking such a high-profile position puts pressure on Heller to get results, lest he been seen as ineffective and unable to persuade his fellow Republicans to go along with his ideas. That’s true even if this is an issue that affects Nevada more than many other states where the unemployment rate has dropped and the need is not as acute.

But no matter what else people say about Heller, however, they will not be able to say he didn’t pull out all the stops to try to get the bill passed. If it fails, it won’t be because Heller phoned it in.