U.S. House Speaker Pelosi opposes separate deal on jobless benefits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected on Friday the idea of a temporary extension to enhanced unemployment benefits, which expire on July 31, while Congress continues work on a new coronavirus relief bill.

“I would be very much averse to separating this (unemployment benefits) out and lose all leverage (on Republicans) for … meeting all of the other needs,” as lawmakers negotiate another coronavirus aid bill, Pelosi, a Democrat, told reporters.

Enhanced unemployment benefits that Congress authorized early in the coronavirus pandemic expire in one week’s time, and lawmakers have been unable to agree on a measure to extend them. The benefits provide an extra $600 a week on top of what states are already paying tens of millions of jobless workers.

The House of Representatives in May passed a proposed $3 trillion coronavirus response plan, which among other things would extend the extra unemployment benefits through January. The Republican-run Senate has declined to take up the House plan, and has not produced an alternative.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Republicans will unveil their coronavirus proposal next week, but that it would include only a partial extension of the enhanced unemployment benefits.

McConnell said Friday, however, that it could take several weeks for lawmakers to reach a deal. “Hopefully we can come together behind some package we can agree on in the next few weeks,” he said at an event in Ashland, Kentucky, the Washington Post reported.

Pelosi also told reporters an amusing story that illustrated public concern about Congress’s next steps.

She said she recently tried to telephone actor Rob Reiner to express condolences at the death of his father, comedian Carl Reiner.

“I called Rob. ‘Rob, Rob darling, this is Nancy Pelosi, I’m calling to wish you and Michele my condolences. I’m so sad, your father was so funny and so wonderful,’” she said.

“This man says, ‘I think you have the wrong number,’” she continued. “And he says, ‘But I’m so glad you called me. I have one question for you … am I going to get my $600?’”

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