Durbin: Unemployment benefits won’t make or break budget deal

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(CNN) — The second-ranking Senate Democrat said Sunday that extending unemployment benefits won’t necessarily be a sticking point for his party in budget negotiations, though he hopes they are included.

“No, I don’t think we’ve reached that point where we’ve said this is it – take it or leave it,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said on ABC’s “The Week” when asked if his party would demand the extension of jobless benefits be included budget talks.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and Senate Budget Chairman Patty Murray, D-Washington, lead a budget conference committee that has until the end of this week to set the spending level for the federal government to avoid another potential budget showdown.

Current funding for the federal government runs out in mid-January around the same time as billions in new budget cuts are set to hit as a part of sequestration. Ryan and Murray’s committee was formed after the last partial government shutdown in October.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio who sits on the House and Senate negotiating panel, also appearing on ABC, said he’s “hopeful” that a deal would be reached by the end of this week and was glad Durbin indicated that Democrats wouldn’t tie the budget deal to extending jobless benefits.

Durbin said he had spoken with Murray recently, and “negotiations are making progress, moving in the right direction.”

“They haven’t closed the deal, but I certainly hope as part of it that negotiators will take to heart what the President had to say. There are working families across America that are struggling. There are unemployed families who need a helping hand,” Durbin said.

President Barack Obama used his weekly address to push Congress to extend unemployment benefits, which expire December 28 for 1.3 million workers, echoing comments he made in a speech earlier last week on the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in the United States.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he’s open to legislation that extends the benefits.

The monthly economic report released last week showed that unemployment has fallen to 7%, its lowest level since November 2008, and that the economy added 203,000 jobs in November, showing steady but painfully slow economic progress.

Extending jobless benefits for another year would cost about $26 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.