Asked about the House's apparent evolution of opinion, House Speaker John Boehner's spokesman Michael Steel said: "These are bipartisan pay-fors that have been supported by both parties in the past." He also added that the Highway Trust Fund included a third offset, taking money from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank fund (or LUST).
Heller, a Republican who has been working to get his former colleagues in the GOP-led House behind an extension and met with incoming House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy to discuss the issue last month, expressed frustration Wednesday. But, he added: "This is Congress. So some things just don't surprise me. And this one didn't."
"You know, it's nice to sort of be copied, in some respects, but then it's not nice," Reed said of the pay-fors.
Prospects for passage of a new unemployment-insurance bill appear dim. It's been seven months since the emergency unemployment-insurance program expired and, so far, no progress has been made in the House. Boehner continues to insist that he will not bring up legislation without a separate jobs provision attached to it, and that's a no-go in the Democratic Senate. And with August recess on the horizon and an election in November, the House is scheduled to work for just 35 more days in Washington this year.
But Reed and Heller insist that they haven't — and won't — give up. The two senators plan to sit down and find new offsets for the legislation that garner sufficient support from both parties — no easy task, particularly in the House, where new spending isn't often greeted with "yea" votes.
Aside from Reed and Heller, however, there appears to be little appetite in Congress to deal with the issue. Even advocates for the program say that Reed and Heller's work is unlikely to get them anywhere this year. "Given where we are in the calendar, I think it is highly unlikely," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has voted for an extension of the program several times this year, said Thursday.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has also voted to extend unemployment insurance, wasn't very optimistic about the program's chances of renewal in this Congress either. "I think it's going to be extremely difficult to come up with a bill that could pass the House. I was hoping that our earlier effort, which was bipartisan, would have done it. But it didn't," she said.
If Republicans take over the Senate in November, the path for unemployment insurance becomes even steeper. But even if Democrats manage to hold onto the upper chamber, it's not clear that there will be an appetite for renewing the program in the next Congress. "It's difficult to say. I mean, how do we forecast the strength of the economy, the unemployment numbers?" Murkowski said, of trying to bring the program back in the future. "I think you never say never. But I think probably for the time being we're not going in that direction."