House Democrats are willing to look at proposals to pay for the estimated $6.4 billion cost of extending unemployment benefits, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday.
While Democratic leaders consider the extension an emergency measure that doesn't require an offset, they would consider GOP proposals to pay for the costs elsewhere in the budget, Hoyer said.
“We believe that we ought to pass it, and then that ought to be part of the budget discussions on a bigger scale,” he added. “They talk about wanting to pay for it. Let's see what they come up with.”
House Democrats in December proposed using cuts to agriculture subsidies to pay for the cost of extending the federal benefits — a measure rejected by House Republicans.
But more recently, the White House and Senate Democrats have argued there is not need to offset the benefits because they should be considered emergency spending.
Hoyer made his comments less than an hour before the Senate, by the thinnest of margins, hopped an important procedural hurdle on a three-month extension of emergency federal help for the long-term unemployed.
The 60-37 vote advanced the bill after Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Dan Coats (Ind.) joined Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a co-sponsor of the bill, in voting to move forward.
Portman and Coats warned, however, that they would vote "no" on future procedural votes unless the bill’s costs are paid for.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has insisted that the cost of the unemployment insurance (UI) extension be offset and accompanied by GOP economic priorities – a message he amplified after Tuesday's Senate vote.
While Hoyer is calling on Boehner and the Republicans to come up with offsets, however, Boehner says that onus falls on President Obama.
“One month ago I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work,” Boehner said in a statement. “To date, the president has offered no such plan.”
Hoyer said Tuesday that passage of the bill in the upper chamber would have “a very substantial effect on the House,” and predicted it would pass in the lower chamber without an offset – if GOP leaders were to bring such a measure to the floor.
“If the Senate passes unemployment insurance, I think there's going to be a very, very increased pressure on Republicans to bring that to the floor," Hoyer said, “[and] if it comes to the floor, I believe it will pass.”
The White House and Democrats are using the fight over unemployment benefits as part of a midterm election messaging push on income inequality.
Hoyer said the debate marks “a stark difference” between each party's approach to the economy and the working class.
“It does make a very clear distinction between the priorities of the Democratic Party, with respect to working people, people in need, and the Republican Party, who focus on giving tax cuts to the best off in America,” Hoyer said.
More than 1 million long-term unemployed Americans lost their federal help on Dec. 28, after Republicans rejected entreaties from Obama and other Democratic leaders to include an extension as part of December's bipartisan budget agreement.
Amid that debate, House Democrats had offered a proposal for a three-month extension that was offset by cuts to farm subsidies over the next decade.