By Erik Wasson
Durbin: No ultimatum on jobless benefits
The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and a Republican member of the budget conference committee on Sunday strongly signaled that an emerging budget deal would not include new spending on unemployment benefits.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that he hopes extended jobless benefits will be part of the budget deal, but Democrats are not, at this point, insisting on it.
“I don't think we have reached that point where we say 'this is it, take it or leave it,' ” Durbin said on ABC's "This Week."
Durbin's soft position echoes that of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who appeared last week to say no deal would be possible without the extension of jobless benefits expiring Jan. 1, but then walked the ultimatum back.
The budget negotiations are being conducted in secret by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). A deal would likely replace $60 billion to $85 billion in sequester cuts to agency budgets over the next two years with long-term entitlement cuts. The deal could include new airline fees, reduced federal retirement benefits, and postal and farm reforms.
A deal would allow appropriators to craft 2014 and 2015 bills and avoid any repeat of the October government shutdown after Jan. 15, when government funding runs out.
Durbin said that Murray told him negotiations are proceeding toward a deal a few nights earlier. Sources have said Murray has been pushing to include unemployment benefit extension in the deal and to remove cuts to federal pensions.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who serves on the panel led by Murray and Ryan, said unemployment insurance should be done separately given the need to find $25 billion in cuts to pay for it.
“The thought always was that it would be handled separately,” he said. He said he was “glad” to hear Durbin was flexible on the issue.