Pelosi not convinced of need to pay for jobless benefits renewal

The House's top Democrat said Monday that it is unnecessary to pay for a renewal of federal unemployment benefits.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she doesn't "necessarily subscribe to paying for the benefits" because they have always been considered emergency spending that don't need an offset.

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"I have not arrived at a place, where I can concede the need to pay for it," she told reporters. 

The program will lapse for 1.3 million people on Friday. 

Pelosi said Democrats on both sides of the Capitol will push for a three-month extension next month that would retroactively cover those affected by the expiration of the program that provides weekly checks to those who have been out of work for at least six months.

While she is agreeable to a three-month bill, it is not predicated on finding a pay-for and would be designed to start a "fuller discussion" of what a renewal means to the economy while providing more time to sway wary Republicans.

Pelosi said the bill Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will try to push through the Senate is not paid for and would provide three months of benefits. 

She dismissed a suggestion that Democrats would hold up a farm bill compromise to ensure that an unemployment insurance bill passes.

There has been some talk that money saved in a farm bill compromise could, at least, cover a short-term extension.

"We have to fight one fight at a time and don't think should be paid for," she said. 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said that historically, the program hasn't been paid for, and she questioned where any savings would emerge that could cover the nearly $26 billion cost.

"In an emergency, we ought to be able to move forward without playing a game and without concentrating on offsets," she said. 

"If our goal is to grow the economy and reduce the deficit, we need to pass UI [unemployment insurance] rather than spend time rather spend time trying to find looking for offsets." 

Pelosi argued for the economic benefits of passing a bill to provide one more year of benefits. 

Without the extension, the economy could lose 200,000 jobs next year but would create more than 300,000 if Congress could pass a bill, she said.

President Obama did his part in the debate on Friday by urging Congress to get it passed so he can sign a bill early next year. 

Gene Sperling, head of the National Economic Council, has said the White House is open to ideas to keep the program going through next year, including finding ways to pay for it. 

But Pelosi said she wasn't aware that the White House is willing to consider a pay-for and reiterated that, if one is demanded, lawmakers would need to find an offset that would not hurt the economy.