House Dems fail to get vote on jobless benefits measure

House Democrats were rebuffed again Monday night as they tried to get a floor vote on a renewal of federal unemployment benefits. 

Reps. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Sandy Levin (Mich.) took their case, once again, to the House Rules Committee and failed to get clearance for a vote that would restore benefits to 1.6 million of the long-term unemployed.

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They implored the panel to allow a vote on an unemployment insurance (UI) bill that would take place after the House passes the five-year farm bill compromise, which was released earlier this evening and is expected to pass by Wednesday. 

Democrats said the program could be paid for with the $15 billion in subsidy and conservation-related savings generated by the farm bill. 

Van Hollen argued that meant Democrats were fulfilling the requirement set out by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to find an offset for the bill. 

But House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) turned the conversation to job creation and suggested, instead, that he sit down with Levin and Van Hollen to discuss ways to 1.6 million jobs to the economy.

Still, Levin and Van Hollen said that while they were happy to discuss growing the labor market, the unemployed workers who lost their benefits at the end of December are facing an immediate need for help. 

"Failure to extend unemployment benefits essentially sinks more and more people into poverty," Levin told the panel.  

"One way or another this institution has to step up to the plate."

The committee eventually voted down the amendment 9-3. 

To further complicate matters, the House is faced with another short week as Republicans head out to Maryland for their annual retreat.

Boehner and Senate Republicans have pressed for Democrats to find a payfor along with reforms to the program, which would include more job training initiatives. 

There hasn't been much of an appetite for using the farm bill savings to reauthorize the program. 

Before last week's break, the Senate failed to reach a bipartisan agreement but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he intends to give it another go, possibly as early as this week. 

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said he continued talks with several Republicans over the weeklong recess, including his bill partner Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).  

Despite a wide range of opinion polls favoring, at least, a short-term renewal, lawmakers have been unable to agree on how to proceed with the program, which started in mid-2008 as the unemployment rate started to rise. 

The emergency federal benefits program expired at the end of December, leaving 1.3 million of those who have been unable to find work for more than six months without a weekly check to keep them going.

In the past month, Democrats have argued that the number of those affected has risen to 1.6 million with 70,000 more eligible each week. 

States offer an average of about 54 weeks, which includes the maximum of 26 weeks in most states. Those states with the highest level of unemployment — Nevada and Rhode Island at 9 percent — get a total of 73 weeks.