Pelosi: Republicans 'moving the goal posts' on jobless benefits bill

Greg Nash

Republicans are blocking an extension of federal jobless benefits by "moving the goal posts" surrounding the debate, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged Thursday.

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Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said he's open to extending the emergency unemployment insurance (UI) payments, as long as the costs are offset and the proposal is accompanied by unnamed economic provisions – a position he's held consistently since Dec. 11.

But Pelosi accused the Republicans of constantly shifting their demands at the expense of the roughly 1.4 million long-term unemployed workers who have lost their federal benefits since the emergency program expired on Dec. 28.

"The Republicans are not just asking for pay-fors," Pelosi said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "They keep moving the goal posts [by saying], 'And we want job creation — a euphemism for tax breaks for the rich — and we want to end regulation [related to] clean air, clean water,' you name it.

"So it's not just about the monetary offsets," she added.

Pelosi amplified the Democrats' position that Congress should move immediately to pass a three-month UI extension without offsets in order to help those who have lost their checks over the last two weeks. That strategy, the Democrats say, would help the economy while buying lawmakers the time to negotiate a longer-term extension that could include the broader program reforms that many Republicans are urging.

"In that case, you might be talking about an array of issues," Pelosi said of possible changes to the underlying program.

The Senate on Tuesday cleared a procedural hurdle on legislation to extend the emergency UI programs for three months without an offset. But most of the six Republicans who helped Democrats reach the 60-vote threshold have warned they won't provide support on the next cloture vote — required before passage — unless the $6.4 billion cost is paid for by changes elsewhere in the budget.

Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), one of the Republicans who supported the measure Tuesday, is now working with Senate Democrats in search of an offset for both a three-month deal and a longer-term extension.

Yet Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who opposes the move to offset a three-month extension, suggested Thursday that he's ready to shift his focus instead to a one-year extension that's paid for.

Boehner, meanwhile, is sticking firm to his stipulation that any UI extension be offset and accompanied by provisions the Republicans say will help create jobs, a position he amplified at a press conference Thursday.

"Clearly, the emergency isn't as bad as it was. But for those families that have lost their jobs and have been unable to find new jobs, it is a crisis for them," Boehner said.

"I have not talked to the president or to Democrat leaders about this issue, because I've laid out what needs to happen," he added. "And they have yet to come forward with any plan."

Pelosi, however, is wondering why Boehner hasn't proposed the specifics he's demanding.

"We haven't seen anything come forward from the Republicans," she said. "What is their suggestion beyond keep moving the goal post?"

--This report was updated at 3:51 p.m.