By Alexander Bolton - 12/19/13 06:00 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not link legislation extending federal unemployment benefits to a government-funding bill that must pass by Jan. 15.
While Democrats in the House and Senate are clamoring for the benefits to be extended, Reid in an interview with The Hill said the two issues would be handled separately when the Senate returns to Washington in January.
Democrats were angry when the two-year budget deal approved by the Senate on Wednesday did not include an extension of the jobless benefits. The benefits will expire for 1.3 million people if they are not extended by the end of the month.
Adding the extension to the omnibus would give Reid greater leverage with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). But it would also risk another government shutdown if Republicans balk at the extension’s $25.7 billion cost.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have been reluctant to pass another round of unemployment insurance at a time when the economy is showing signs of recovery, especially since Reid said the cost of the assistance should not be offset. The jobless rate fell to 7 percent in November, the lowest it has been since before President Obama entered office.
Reid said Sens. Jack Reed (D) and Dean Heller (D-Nev.) will take the lead in pushing unemployment benefits.
Reed, whose home state of Rhode Island has a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, said Tuesday he would prefer to extend benefits for a year but will likely settle for three months given political realities in Congress.
Reid and Heller’s home state of Nevada has a 9.3 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the country.
The majority leader pledged last week to spend as much time as it takes to pass extended benefits through the Senate next year.
On the subject of the debt limit, the biggest remaining fiscal battle of 2014, Reid said he will not negotiate with Republicans in exchange for expanding the nation’s borrowing authority.
“I have trouble understanding when we’ve cut the debt by 2.6 trillion. We have this budget arrangement between [Sen. Patty] Murray [D-Wash.] and [Rep. Paul] Ryan [R-Wis.], which also further reduces the debt, how they can say they want some hostages to simply pay our bills,” he said.
“The president’s position has not changed, we haven’t changed, this is not a negotiation,” he added.
Murray, the chairwoman of the Budget Committee, took a similar stance in an interview with MSNBC earlier Wednesday.
“I think the lessons from last year that holding pieces of legislation hostage to our economy and to the certainty that American people want is wrong, and I don't believe that will happen again next year either,” she told MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd.
McConnell warned Democrats Tuesday that a clean debt ceiling increase would not be palatable to the GOP.
“I doubt if the House or, for that matter, the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase,” he told reporters. “Every time the president asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country.”