Extended jobless benefits ran out on Saturday for 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed, and Democrats are looking to make political hay out of the issue.
Democrats and some Republicans are working on a three-month extension of benefits that would be the first order of business when Congress returns in January. The bill would add $6 billion to the deficit unless offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
The fate of the bill is uncertain in the House. Speaker Boehner hasn’t said he would oppose an extension, but it’s probable that a majority of Republicans would not vote for one unless there were offsets included in the bill.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ratcheted up pressure on Republicans wary of another extension. In a statement issued Friday, she called the pending expiration “immoral,” and blamed GOP lawmakers for allowing it to happen.
“Starting tomorrow, too many American families will face the New Year with uncertainty, insecurity, and instability as a result of congressional Republicans’ refusal to extend critical unemployment insurance,” she said. “The first item on Congress’ agenda in the New Year must be an extension of unemployment insurance. That must be our priority on day one.”
House Democrats cried foul when the two-year budget deal was unveiled without an extension included, but many ultimately supported the package. Senate Democrats and the White House also backed the budget, vowing to address the unemployment issue soon but separately.
Democrats have buttressed their arguments with polling that shows steady public support for another extension and that Republicans could pay at the polls for opposing it. A poll from left-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP) released earlier this week found that in four key swing districts, as well as the home district of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), voters support an extension by 63 to 38 percent.
Democrats are also working to play up the impact back home on local media, highlighting how many people in their hometowns could be losing assistance.
“When the American people get involved and speak out, we are going to win this fight, and I believe that that is what’s going to happen,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a liberal who caucuses with Democrats, on MSNBC this week.
Some Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), have said they would oppose another extension. They argue that policymakers should be focused on creating more jobs rather than providing more assistance, especially as the economy continues to recover.
And other GOP lawmakers have remained noncommittal on the idea of an extension, but are clearly concerned about the cost. Boehner and other Republicans have not said explicitly that they would oppose renewing the benefits, but, at the same time, they want to see the costs offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
Democrats rebut that demand by arguing the extension of benefits is actually an economic boon. Pelosi and others point to analysis that shows an extension would allow the unemployed to continue pumping money into the economy, driving economic growth and job creation.
The problem for Republicans is that they are probably right on policy but wrong on the politics. Of course it’s better to encourage actual job creation. But what about the claim — one trotted out every time extended unemployment benefits are being debated — that benefits to the unemployed grow the economy?