But Heller and Reed, whose home states of Nevada and Rhode Island have the highest unemployment rates in the country, remain positive. "I think this can get done," Heller said at a press conference Tuesday. "It's going to take more sides working together, trying to solve this problem."
Heller began this week with a potential ace in his pocket: a close ally who recently rose up in the ranks of House leadership.
At first, the election of Kevin McCarthy of California to House majority leader Thursday looked like a good sign for unemployment insurance advocates. Heller and McCarthy were both members of the class of 2006 in the House and hail from neighboring states. When murmurs of Eric Cantor's resignation began two weeks ago, Heller crossed the Capitol to drop by McCarthy's office and offer his support. The two didn't discuss unemployment insurance in that meeting, but the close relationship between Heller and McCarthy offered a ray of hope that, at the very least, Heller's interest in the issue would be heard.
Heller has since called the new majority leader and received some disappointing news: McCarthy and Boehner are on the same page. "His message was very clear. It was very similar to Boehner's — very similar to Boehner's — and that is, 'We want job provisions,' " Heller said, adding that their conversations will continue. Boehner has called repeatedly on President Obama to make a deal with the House, offering reforms to energy, taxes, or the health care law, Heller suggested, in return for an extension of unemployment-insurance benefits.
Heller is still hopeful, and has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he's sympathetic to the House members' concerns. The chamber has about 40 jobs bills languishing in the Senate and would like to see one or more brought to the floor in exchange for a vote on unemployment insurance.
Heller said he has spoken with Obama about the issue, and was grateful for his support, but he called on the president to take a more active role on the issue. "I know this issue is important to the president," he said "He needs to be more engaged. He needs to pick up the phone and talk to the speaker and say, 'Hey, how can we get this done?' " Heller said.
But Reed, a Democrat, said that the Senate has already jumped through a number of hoops for House Republicans — paying for both Senate bills and removing retroactive benefits, which the House argued would be difficult to administer, in the new legislation — and he called additional concerns from the House "not reasons [to not pass the Senate bills], but excuses."More than 3 million Americans have lost their unemployment-insurance benefits since the program expired last year, he noted. "I don't think we can leave these families behind," he said.
And with summer coming and unrest in the Middle East, Heller added, this legislation is more important than even. Heller said he is growing concerned about gas prices going up during travel season and putting even more families in a financial bind.