Businessweek's Joshua Green reports today:
When Congress reconvenes on Jan. 6, one of the first issues it will take up is whether to renew an emergency federal unemployment program that expired on Dec. 28, cutting off 1.3 million jobless workers. Enacted in 2008 at the start of the recession, it provided up to 47 weeks of benefits for those still looking for work when their state unemployment benefits ran out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll try to pass a temporary extension, but most Republicans have balked at the $25 billion-a-year cost. If the program isn’t revived, the impact could be significant—not just for the 1.3 million people losing a vital lifeline but on the broader economy.
On Monday, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released new data on the loss of unemployment insurance benefits by state, with a statement calling on Republicans to intervene on behalf of families "cut off from this basic assistance for job seekers."
Ways and Means Committee Democrats today released new estimates showing how many additional people in every state will lose their unemployment benefits each week that the federal program remains expired. On Saturday, 1.3 million people nationwide lost their federal unemployment insurance. In the first six months of 2014, an additional 1.9 million Americans will lose their coverage as they exhaust their state benefits and are unable to receive federal unemployment insurance – with 72,000 losing their benefits each week during the first half of 2014. The figures are based on Department of Labor data.
In Colorado, an estimated 20,200 unemployed workers saw their benefits cut off last weekend–a tough Christmas present indeed. During the first half of 2014, data from Ways and Means Democrats estimates that 1,123 workers in Colorado will lose unemployment benefits each week if the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is not extended, a total additional 29,200 workers.
As usual, Democrats find themselves up against Republican ideological presumption. Businessweek:
Though the job market hasn’t fully recovered from the recession, many Republicans believe extending jobless benefits saps workers’ motivation to seek employment or accept positions they deem less than ideal. “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for,” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said on Fox News on Dec. 8. “Beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group.”
Much like the "sequester" federal budget cuts that took effect after Congress failed to make good on their 2011 promises to find alternatives, Republicans for a long time paid lip service to the desire to keep unemployment benefits flowing to jobseekers during the recent severe recession. With after the disastrous shutdown of the federal government last October, the sequester cuts Republicans had previously spoke out against became more or less their sole claim to victory. Today, where disparaging unemployment benefits was at one point off limits in this recession, you have influential Republicans openly grousing about creating a perpetual "dependent class" on government.
Polling released just before Christmas from Colorado's most competitive congressional district, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman's CD-6, shows voters their support extending federal emergency unemployment benefits by a whopping 63-33% majority. Here again we have an issue where the polling clearly indicates a politically expedient course of action. Just not the action taken by Coffman and his Republican colleagues.
Will this election year make a difference–to the endangered Rep. Coffman, or to House GOP leadership? We'll have to wait and see.