Republicans may be hurt by failure to extend unemployment benefits
Some Colorado lawmakers, including U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, may have made a serious error with their refusal to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits to workers who have been unable to find a suitable job before exhausting their state benefits.
With callous disregard for the struggles of long-term unemployed to survive the recession, Congress left for its extended holiday vacation without funding continuing federal unemployment benefits. These unemployed workers, thanks to Republican stalling tactics in Congress, will not be getting the checks that otherwise would arrive at the end of the month.
The Republicans who further spoiled an already bleak Christmas for 1.3 million unemployed Americans, now leave these struggling families and individuals facing a bleak New Year with anxiety, uncertainty and fear.
As The Denver Post’s Aldo Svaldi and Allison Sherry reported, “An estimated 72,800 unemployed people in (Colorado) face a loss of assistance, counting those who would have rolled over next year from state unemployment benefits, which expire at 26 weeks, to federal unemployment benefits, which provide another 37 weeks of support, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.”
Congressional Democrats and the president tried and failed to pass an extension of unemployment benefits before Congress recessed. According to the National Employment Law Project, “If Congress does not reauthorize the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program, more than 2 million unemployed workers will lose federal unemployment benefits by the end of March 2014.”
Plans call for a bipartisan bill to be introduced in the Senate on Jan. 6 to restore benefits for three months, with extensions to be passed every three months until unemployment numbers return to pre-recession levels.
Even if that scheme goes according to schedule, and recent Senate inability to pass anything of great importance or long duration suggests that is unlikely, every extension will offer a new opportunity for the House Republicans to demand concessions in return for passing legislation essential to keep government functioning.
But, as Svaldi suggested, “A divided Congress didn’t extend federal unemployment benefits before recessing, and chances are slim that both chambers of Congress, a Republican-controlled House and a Democrat-controlled Senate, will take up an extension in January.”
If the bill does come up, House Speaker John Boehner has made it clear that he will negotiate only if “offsets” are found in other parts of the budget.
A stalemate is almost certain to follow, as Democrats insist the money come from wealthy corporations and individuals, while Republicans hold out for taking it from other, already underfunded social programs that would need their resources to help replace the loss of government unemployment insurance by almost 2 million people.
Meantime, the most vulnerable of the unemployed, those who survive mostly or completely on their unemployment checks, will be the group most severely impacted.
Unfortunately for the GOP, unemployment cuts across party as well as economic lines.
It was one thing for the Republicans to shut down the government over raising the national debt limit and starve it of operating funds through the sequester, but quite another to take unemployment checks from many who rely on them to survive until job opportunities materialize as the recession winds down.
A Public Policy Polling report released Monday shows that more that 60 percent of constituents in Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman’s Aurora district want unemployment benefits extended. Coffman’s resistance means he “is hopelessly out of touch,” an Americans United for Change spokesman charged.
Though no similar polling is available for Tipton’s 3rd Congressional District, he could find himself in a similar position to Coffman. Despite signs of recovery in other parts of the state, western Colorado’s persistently high unemployment offers little hope for people who have been unemployed for many months.
Unless Republican legislators are prepared to deal openly and directly to extend federal unemployment benefits, they are likely to find themselves among the unemployed after next November.