Hoyer: Dems to protest if unemployment benefits not extended

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Thursday that House Democrats would oppose the scheduled adjournment of the House next week unless the House passes an extension of expiring unemployment benefits.

"I want to make it clear to the Majority Leader that our side will be vigorously opposed and will oppose adjourning of the House as is scheduled on Friday the 13th of this month, if in fact we have not passed unemployment insurance," Hoyer told Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

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Hoyer said that as of Dec. 28, 1.3 million people will see their unemployment benefits expire, which will leave many of them with no federal help. Others, he said, would likely be driven to the federal food stamp program or other programs.

When Hoyer asked Cantor if GOP leaders would consider an extension of these benefits, Cantor indicated that the House would not.

"The expiration of the benefits that he just referred to were benefits that were passed by this Congress five years ago as emergency spending, as emergency need," Cantor said.

Cantor also mirrored an argument made by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week, saying that the House has passed nearly 150 jobs bills this year that the Senate has ignored.

"The best way to address the chronically unemployed is to help them get back to work," he said. "I think that we should be focused on how we get folks back to work."

Earlier in the day, Boehner said the House would adjourn on Dec. 13, regardless of whether House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on a budget deal or the farm bill. Cantor was consistent with that message, and said the House "may" take up those issues if they're ready, but stopped short of saying they'd be ready.

Cantor was, however, optimistic about the chances of getting a budget deal done at some point.

"The discussions that I've had with [Budget Committee] Chairman [Paul] Ryan [(R-Wis.)] would lead me to some optimism that the two sides actually can come to an agreement," he said. "The agreement has not been made, so I don't want to at all say that there's a deal."

Cantor said the House may also consider legislation extending the current Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors, the so-called sustainable growth rate (SGR) issue. Congress has passed temporary fixes to this issue for the last few years, and may have to do another short-term fix.

However, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said today that his committee was looking to pass a permanent fix next week.

Elsewhere, Cantor said the House would take up a pediatric research bill next week — H.R. 2019, the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act.