Republican Dean Heller of Nevada is getting flak from D.C.-based conservative groups for his support of extending jobless benefits, but back home in Nevada — where the unemployment rate is a nation-high 9 percent — a different story is being told.
Heller, the lone co-sponsor of the three-month extension, was one of six Republicans who voted Tuesday to advance the legislation. He is also currently the only GOP senator whose support of the bill is unconditional.
Since Friday, the major networks in Las Vegas and Reno have run approximately 55 news segments combined on the pending unemployment insurance legislation, according to a CQ Roll Call estimate based on media tracking information provided by a Nevada source outside Heller's office. More than 40 segments have run since Monday alone. This estimate only considers information about the major English-language networks newscasts, though many segments have run on Univision and Telemundo. The count also does not take into consideration the segments that have run and will run now that the bill unexpectedly cleared a key procedural hurdle.
For context, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — Nevada's senior senator who typically gets more local press coverage — had more than well more than double the number of television mentions on this issue than any other issue combined.
Following Tuesday's vote, Heller urged swift passage of the extension in a statement that specifically cited the number of his constituents who lost their benefits.
“When Congress went home in December, benefits for 17,000 Nevadans and approximately 1.3 Americans abruptly expired. Inaction by Congress has left these individuals and families facing the New Year uncertain how they will pay their utility bills or feed their families," Heller said. "With Democrats and Republicans working together, it is my hope that we can shape a piece of legislation that can pass Congress and be signed into law."
The policy-based and political importance of this legislation, especially for Republicans like Heller who are in states with high unemployment rates and Democratic colleagues, is higher than on other bills for which Reid is seeking support from across the aisle. From our story running on the front page of Wednesday's Roll Call:
Jobless benefits expired on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million Americans, but states with higher unemployment rates are disproportionately affected because federal extended benefits are divided into tiers of aid based on need.
States that have unemployment rates at or above 6 percent, 7 percent and 9 percent have access to more federal benefits for their residents. Three of the GOP senators who voted with Democrats Tuesday — Dean Heller of Nevada, Dan Coats of Indiana and Rob Portman of Ohio — are from states where the unemployment rate is above 7 percent. They also all have Democratic seatmates, and had they not supported at least allowing debate of the measure, they risked headlines at home highlighting how they blocked assistance to their neediest constituents as their Democratic colleagues fought to approve them.
That was the case for Republicans Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, both of whom fall into the same category as the aforementioned GOP supporters. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran the headline, “Toomey, Casey split on unemployment benefits” and the Chicago Tribune published, “Illinois senators split in jobless aid extension vote.” Pennsylvania and Illinois have jobless rates of 7.3 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively.