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Heller pleads for House GOP to act on jobless benefits

WASHINGTON — With time growing short and the numbers of long-term unemployed workers growing long, senators on Thursday stepped up a call for House leaders to act on a bill to restore federal jobless benefits that expired in December.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., called on House Speaker John Boehner to set aside a demand that President Barack Obama produce job amendments that could be added to the bill.

Heller was joined at a news conference by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., who said Boehner, R-Ohio, was being unreasonable. Democrats charge the House leader was using an excuse not to act on an issue that splits Republicans.

Heller said Boehner’s demand stems from Republican frustration that ideas they propose on energy, health care and tax reform are ignored by the White House. But he said that should be put aside in order to repair a safety net for people looking for work and unable to find it.

“Those issues are important but today we have a problem.” Heller said. “It’s two different issues. The critical thing today is to help those that need help today.”

The White House has given no signal it would act on Boehner’s demands. At the same time, some House Republicans are floating possible compromises that would add job-training amendments or GOP-favored tax breaks to the bill.

Heller made a personal pitch in a phone call to Boehner this week to act on a Senate-passed bill to extend benefits until the end of May and retroactive to Dec. 28 when the federal program expired.

The House leader stuck by his insistence that Obama propose job amendments, and that they come from the president specifically to show he is serious about getting people back to work rather than merely extending payments to them. Some Republicans argue the benefits serve as a disincentive for people to work.

Meanwhile the number of jobless people whose 26 weeks of state-funded unemployment insurance has expired has grown to 2.6 million. Heller said the 34,000 Nevadans are affected.

Heller and Reed did not say what would happen if Congress fails to act by the end of the month when the Senate-passed bill would expire.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at STetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.

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