Pelosi: No jobless aid, no deal

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that Democrats won't support a budget agreement without a reauthorization of federal unemployment benefits. 

"We can't support a budget agreement that doesn't include UI [unemployment insurance]," Pelosi said Thursday at a Democratic hearing on the issue. 

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"It would undermine who we are as a country and strike at the heart of what you bring to America," she said to several unemployed workers who testified at the hearing. 

Rep Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Pelosi's demand was not helpful. 

"I don't think adding an item like that at the last minute is particularly helpful to negotiators trying to get a deal," the Oklahoma Republican said Thursday. 

The leaders of the House and Senate budget conference, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have been working on a deal that would replace a part of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester. 

The two don't have a deal yet, and they are running out of time ahead of a Dec. 13 deadline. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) struck a pessimistic note, saying Ryan did not have a deal when he updated Boehner on Thursday. 

Cole said that by interjecting the issue of extending unemployment benefits, Pelosi was endangering the possibility of turning off the sequester. Earlier this week, Cole said there was little appetite in his conference for extending the benefits, which were first launched as part of the 2009 stimulus bill.

Pelosi argued Republicans are being insensitive to the long-term unemployed.

"Perhaps they don't know, or they know and don't care," she said. 

Asked if he supported an extension of unemployment benefits, Boehner repeatedly called on President Obama to produce a specific plan.

"If the president has a plan for extending unemployment benefits, I'd surely entertain taking a look at it," he said.

"But I would argue the president's real focus ought to be creating a better environment for our economy and creating better jobs for the American people. That's where the focus is, not more government programs."

The White House has expressed support for an extension and has said it is even willing to consider offsets to pay for the $25.7 billion program. 

House Budget Committee ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said the idea to extend benefits has been floated among budget conferees. 

The federal jobless benefits kick in after state benefits are exhausted, usually after 26 weeks. 

Without action, 1.3 million workers would immediately lose their emergency jobless benefits on Dec. 28.

Ahead of the hearing, the White House released a report detailing the importance of the program, especially while the unemployment rate remains above 7 percent. 

It said the 7.3 percent unemployment rate is higher than at the expiration of any previous extended benefits program.

All told, the program has supported nearly 69 million people over five years, including almost 17 million children, according to the White House report. 

The Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that the Democratic legislation would create 200,000 jobs next year and add 0.2 percent growth to the economy.

Russell Berman and Erik Wasson contributed. 

This story was posted at 12:28 and updated at 1:40 p.m.

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