TIME Unemployment

House Conservatives Skeptical of Senate’s Unemployment Benefits Deal

Jim Jordan
House subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation, and Regulatory Affairs Chairman Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio presides over the subcommittee's hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 6, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

An agreement struck by a bipartisan group of 10 senators would retroactively restore for five months emergency unemployment insurance that expired in December—but senior Republican representatives aren't sold

House conservatives moved quickly Thursday to condemn an agreement struck by a bipartisan group of 10 senators to retroactively restore for 5 months emergency unemployment insurance that expired in December.

The proposal from senators representing some of the most economically distraught states would be paid for through changes to single-employer pension plans and extending fees on U.S. customs users through 2024. The extension would not be restored for the tiny fraction of millionaires who receive unemployment insurance. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I), who led the negotiations with Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), called it a “bipartisan breakthrough.”

But the reaction from influential House conservatives who had yet to hear of the plan ranged from skeptical to outright opposition, suggesting the bill will struggle to get beyond the Senate.

“I haven’t seen it, but no,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told TIME. “We need to be focused on policies that create jobs, not focusing on extending unemployment [insurance] forever,” added Jordan, noting that the President has extended unemployment benefits numerous times before. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), the House conference’s chief deputy whip, said there would be a “high level of scrutiny on the level of the pay-for.”

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), an influential conservative who, like Jordan, once served as Republican Study Committee chairman, left the opportunity for reconciliation open, but indicated that the issue was already over. “The extended unemployment benefits by the Administration were to be in place until unemployment came down,” said Price. “Unemployment is down.”

The issue of unemployment insurance has been a Democratic messaging point ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, and a successful bipartisan bill might have been expected to blunt that line of attack. That’s one reason some Democratic strategists are confident House Republicans will end up passing the bill. “I’ve got $7—but not $10—that it passes the House, that the Speaker gets his folks to back off in the end,” said longtime former Senate aide Jim Manley. “They’re on a glide path to get as little done by the end of the year as possible and getting this out of the way helps. And it takes away a Democratic talking point.”

The senate proposal is supported by eight co-sponsors: Sens Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark), and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill).

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