Boehner "open" to extending unemployment benefits

We’re expecting a vote in the Senate tomorrow on extending federal emergency longer-term unemployment benefits, though at the moment, Harry Reid still seems to be a few votes short of even getting the measure out of his own chamber.

The Senate is due to vote tomorrow to advance a bill sponsored by Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Dean Heller of Nevada, though it’s unclear the legislation has the votes to pass. In addition to Heller, Reid would need four more Republican votes for the bill to get Senate approval.

“Never with unemployment like this have we even considered not extending them,” Reid, of Nevada, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. Benefits for the long-term unemployed expired on Dec. 28. The program was intended to help jobless people after they exhausted state benefits, typically lasting six months.

The President was still pushing for the extension in his weekly remarks, and Democrats such as Chuck Schumer have wasted no time in using this issue to bludgeon Republicans from the populist podium. Of course, even if the bill makes it out of the Senate, it still has to pass in the House, where it was previously unclear if it would even be brought up for a vote at all. But now, the Speaker is sounding like a deal just may be in the offing.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) remains open to an extension of emergency unemployment benefits even in the face of growing conservative opposition to such a move.

The Ohio Republican maintains the position he expressed last month that Republicans would “clearly consider” an extension of federal help for the long-term unemployed “as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that will help get our economy moving once again,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Friday.

At the same time, a number of Republicans – including leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee – continue to question the need to extend the unemployment insurance (UI) benefits at all.

“Despite a dozen extensions, academic research suggests the program has actually hurt, rather than helped, the job creation that the unemployed need most,” Michelle Dimarob, spokesperson for Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), said Friday in a statement.

It’s impossible to get a clear read on the Speaker at this point. This could well be the usual media tactic of essentially saying, “well consider anything if the deal is beneficial.” That’s almost a requirement of the job these days, rather than throwing more red meat to his critics over being “an obstructionist” yet again. But it’s also possible that he’s seeing some sliver of daylight where the Democrats offer up some cuts to pay for this and he can get it off of his plate.

Unfortunately, this looks like it’s shaping up to be the next chapter in the “GOP Civil War” meme that the media loves to talk about. (Along with anything else that doesn’t involve Obamacare, obviously.) Plenty of conservatives are running up the black flag and ready to go to the mat on this, arguing against another extension of benefits. It’s also yet another case of Politics 101 where you can have the science – math, in this case – on your side and still wind up losing the larger battle. Coming into the mid-terms, the Democrats would love nothing more than to litter the airwaves with one advertisement after another listing the number of families who have lost their benefits with so few job opportunities out there, thanks to the heartless Republicans.

With things otherwise shaping up to be an election with excellent opportunities, Boehner would clearly like to make this problem go away for at least the next year. But if the Democrats won’t pony up the cuts needed to offset the cost of this extension, the stage is set for precisely the type of media narrative which serves them best.

From that perspective, it’s almost better for the liberals to offer Boehner nothing and let the chips fall where they may. That way they wind up being equally responsible for the benefits not being paid but they get the media to blame the GOP entirely. Suffering no damage themselves, they also shift the narrative away from Obamacare yet again and breath new life into their hopes to hang on to the Senate majority. So will they play it that way? We’ll know soon enough.