Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., vowed Thursday to take up an extension of jobless benefits when Congress returns from its holiday break, saying it would be the "first item of business" in 2014.
Many Democrats had hoped unemployment insurance would be negotiated as part of a larger budget package drafted by Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis. There are a significant number of Republicans, especially in the House, who do not believe jobless benefits are necessary, and getting an extension signed into law without being attached to a must-pass provision could prove difficult. The Obama administration has estimated that 1.3 million Americans will lose benefits immediately when the current unemployment insurance measure expires on Dec. 28.
"For me, I am about as disappointed as anyone could be because Nevada leads the nation in unemployment," Reid said.
When asked by WGDB whether he was concerned that the UI legislation could not pass the House as a standalone bill, Reid said: "The politics of this are pretty strong. The people that are unemployed for long periods of time, they're Democrats and they're Republicans. This is an issue that the Republicans need, I think, more than we need."
Reid said that before Christmas, he plans to take up the budget agreement, a defense authorization agreement and several more nominees — though with Republicans refusing to cede debate time, the process for those items alone could take days.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney wasn't willing to throw in the towel on getting a deal before the House leaves tomorrow, telling reporters after Reid's remarks that the White House still wants and expects Congress to act. The White House, Carney said, does not believe unemployment benefits need to be offset, and he noted that Republicans in the past, including leaders and President George W. Bush, have also held that position.
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.