Heller-Boehner Unemployment Insurance Chat Goes Nowhere

A Heller staffer characterized the conversation as "good," but Boehner repeated what he's already told the White House.

Sen. Dean Heller, one of the biggest advocates for unemployment insurance in Congress, called Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday afternoon to push the House to take up legislation extending the insurance benefits. But that chat ended just about where it began: It went nowhere.

Heller spokeswoman Chandler Smith described the conversation as "good," but added: "Speaker Boehner relayed the same message that he gave to the White House. Senator Heller will continue to work to get something done."

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel offered the same synopsis. "The Speaker spoke by telephone with Sen. Heller today, and told him the same thing he has told the White House since before Christmas: we're willing to look at a plan that is paid-for and includes something to help create jobs. Unfortunately [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid ruled out adding jobs provisions," Steel said in an email.

Time is running out for Heller and other advocates to get the Senate legislation through the House. The bill extends unemployment-insurance benefits through the end of May — just over four weeks away. Heller and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said earlier this month that if the House did not take up the legislation soon there would come a point when negotiators would have to start over. "There is a very short window," Reed said.

But Heller pointed out Tuesday that the Senate bill also includes retroactive benefits for the millions of Americans who have lost their unemployment insurance since the program expired on Dec. 28. "We need to get this retroactively done to help these families that need the money," the Nevada Republican said.

A handful of House Republicans have written to Boehner asking for a vote on unemployment-insurance benefits, while a few other Republicans have floated the possibility of attaching approval of the Keystone pipeline and other job-creation proposals to the bill in order to pass the Boehner test. But several lawmakers said that the issue has not been a topic of serious discussion within the House Republican Conference.