By Mike Lillis - 12/05/13 04:18 PM EST
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is softening her comments that an extension of federal jobless benefits must be included in a budget deal to win Democratic support.
At her weekly press conference, Pelosi said the benefits should be extended before the end of the year and that she hoped it could be part of a budget deal.
“Hopefully, it could be part of the budget, but it doesn't have to be part of the budget,” Pelosi said. “It could be on its own vehicle, as it goes forward, but it's something we must consider.”
Asked directly if she could support a budget bill absent the unemployment benefits, Pelosi said, “Within itself, yes. Except — but I do still want to see an unemployment bill.”
Earlier on Thursday, Pelosi had said Democrats “can't support a budget agreement that doesn't include UI [unemployment insurance].”
During a Democratic panel on unemployment insurance, she said Democrats couldn't support a budget deal that didn't include the extension in the budget, or at least in a "side bar in order to move it along."
Those comments were picked up in the media, and the later press conference seemed to be an effort to clarify that Democrats wouldn't block a budget deal over the unemployment benefits.
Democrats, who have made the extension of the UI benefits a top priority for the remainder of the quickly shrinking legislative year, say the budget deal is their top vehicle choice because it could be one of the last bills to get out of Congress before the holidays.
Although no such agreement has been reached, negotiators remain hopeful they can come together on a package before the Dec. 13 deadline.
Pelosi's initial UI remarks Thursday have complicated that effort, however, as Republicans have balked at a UI extension as part of the budget discussion.
"I don't think adding an item like that at the last minute is particularly helpful to negotiators trying to get a deal," Rep Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Thursday, before Pelosi's press conference.
Pelosi's office issued a statement after her press conference attempting to clarify her position further.
“The Leader believes that extending unemployment insurance is of the highest priority and is pleased that the Speaker, at his press conference after Democrats’ hearing this morning, left the door open to addressing the extension,” spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement. “The budget bill will be judged on its own merits.”
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.
The program has repeatedly been extended since its launch as part of the 2009 stimulus bill.
House Democrats on Thursday unveiled their own proposal for a budget deal, which includes $25 billion to extend UI benefits for a year. The costs, under their plan, would be covered by bolstering efforts to collect delinquent taxes owed to the Treasury.
"It's not only the right thing to do to help those families, it's the right thing to do to help our community and our economy," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, said Thursday as he unveiled the package.