Dems to Boehner: Take the lead on jobless benefits

House Democratic leaders are urging Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to offer the offsets he's demanding for a jobless benefits bill.
 
Boehner has said he's open to extending the emergency federal help to those long-term unemployed workers who have exhausted their state benefits. But the Speaker has not put forward such a measure, calling instead on President Obama to offer a proposal that both offsets the $6.4 billion cost and includes Republican economic policies that are likely dead-on-arrival in the Democratically controlled Senate.
 
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Democratic leaders say that if Boehner is serious about his support for the underlying policy, he will take the lead on proposing the offsets.
 
"He should not throw the ball to anybody else. Ohio is suffering like every other state in terms of the number of unemployed people looking for work," Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, told reporters in the Capitol Tuesday. "It isn't up to the White House, it's up to the Speaker. … I don't think he should say it's somebody else's obligation.
 
"I don't think it should be offset," Levin added. "If the Speaker thinks so, let him propose some cuts."
 
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer delivered a similar message Tuesday. The Maryland Democrat said he agrees with Levin that the federal help is an emergency measure that shouldn't require an offset elsewhere in the budget. But if Boehner and the Republicans are insisting on such a pay-for, they should propose one.
 
"They talk about wanting to pay for it," he said. "Let's see what they come up with."
 
The Senate on Tuesday advanced a three-month extension of emergency unemployment insurance (UI) benefits without covering the costs. But several of the GOP senators whose support was needed to reach the 60-vote threshold are already warning that they wouldn't support the bill the next time around unless it's paid for.
 
The threats mean Senate Democrats would likely need to find an offset if the measure is to clear the next procedural vote, which could happen as early as Thursday. That dynamic that was not lost on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said Tuesday that he is open to a reasonable offset from Republicans but not the ObamaCare cuts the GOP has floated in the past. 
 
“Sen. [Mitch] McConnell [R-Ky.] says he wants to pay for extending for these unemployment benefits … by whacking ObamaCare. That’s a nonstarter,” Reid said. “If they come with something that’s serious, I’ll talk to them.”
 
Reid was quick to highlight the difficulty of finding offsets, even for popular programs like UI, in Washington's current polarized political environment.
 
“Right now they should understand the low-hanging fruit is gone. We’ve scavenged every place we can go,” he said. “We know Republicans will not close long-standing tax loopholes."
 
Levin, along with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), had proposed a three-month extension of UI benefits last month, with the costs offset by cuts to federal farm subsidies. The measure was rejected by Boehner and other GOP leaders as part of the bipartisan budget package and never received a vote on the floor.
 
Levin on Tuesday said the expiration of benefits for 1.3 million workers on Dec. 28 has changed the Democrats' position on whether the measure should be offset.
 
"It was put up because … we weren't in this emergency period, and it was within the context of the budget," Levin said Tuesday of his previous proposal. "It was that particular circumstance, but now we're in the midst of this crisis for 1.3 million [and] we need to respond to it."
 
Boehner on Tuesday responded to the Senate vote by amplifying his past insistence that the Obama administration come up with offsets and other economic policies to accompany the UI extension.
 
"One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work," Boehner said in a statement. "To date, the president has offered no such plan."
 
— Erik Wasson contributed.