When the Senate reconvenes on Monday, its first legislative action will be to extend unemployment benefits for another three months. Unemployment benefits for people out of work for 99 weeks expired at the end of the year. The three month extension would cost $6.5 billion.
Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) is, so far, the lone Republican supporter of the extension. His support means Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) needs just 4 other GOP votes to invoke cloture and block a filibuster. Republicans want to offset the cost of the extension with cuts elsewhere in the budget. Republicans also want to review and reform the government’s job training programs.
States provide unemployment benefits for, generally, 26 weeks. During the depths of the recession, the federal government stepped in to extend benefits for those out of work more than 26 weeks. Since then, through a variety of programs, the federal government has been paying benefits to those unemployed for up to 99 weeks.
Congress didn’t extend the program before leaving for the holiday break. As a result, 1.3 million unemployed lost benefits at the end of the year. Additional unemployed will lose benefits in the coming months unless the program is extended. The White House estimates that just over 4 million unemployed would lose benefits at the end of 2014.
Knowing the Senate Republicans, Harry Reid will likely get the 4 votes he needs to overcome any filibuster. There is no indication, however, that the House will vote on an extension, without corresponding spending cuts.
The root of the problem, of course, is the fact that long-term unemployment benefits are even necessary. The need to provide financial support for individuals for almost 2 years, highlights the weakness of the overall economy. Democrats trumpeting of an extension of benefits is an attempt to distract attention from that reality.