Benefits for the long-term unemployed expired at the end of 2013, and it's looking less and less likely that Congress will reinstate them. Two different votes on proposals to extend benefits failed in the Senate this week, and now the Senate is in recess. Even if the Senate manages to pass an extension later, the measure will likely fail in the Republican-controlled House. So what's to be done? Listen to lawmakers blame each other, of course.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP argue that Majority Leader Harry Reid is getting what he wanted. As Politico's Burgess Everett explains, the failure to pass an extension is "another example of Republican obstructionism to run against in November, or 'putting politics over struggling families,' as [McConnell] has put it." One GOP aide told Politico, "[Reid's] more concerned with preserving his talking point than he is with helping the unemployed. There are a number of Republicans working across the aisle on a package that could pass if Reid would only get out of the way." Republicans' biggest concern is that the benefits extension is somehow "paid for." But Reid rejects the characterization that he cares more about 2014 than the unemployed:
This is asinine that they would even suggest that. ... These are people I know who can’t find work. One Republican leader laughed about this, as you know — thinks it’s funny. This is not funny.
Reid is referring to a radio interview McConnell did this week.
National Journal's Alex Seitz-Wald thinks that both parties have something to gain by not passing an extension. "Cutting off the benefits will almost certainly cause the unemployment rate to drop," he wrote Friday. "When it does, Republicans will feel ideologically vindicated, while Democrats will have some good economic news to sell to voters ahead of the 2014 election."
If Congress is unable to pass a benefits extension, the unemployment rate will drop, but that's not a good thing. It just means that more people are dropping out of the workforce entirely. To receive unemployment benefits, you have to be actively looking for a job. The AP estimates the unemployment rate could drop another quarter of a percent if Congress doesn't get it together (it just dropped to 6.7 percent).
Democrats could, of course, ignore this reality and just campaign on a lower unemployment rate. But the fact is that the workforce will be smaller.
Our guess is that people who have been out of work for months probably don't care which party dominates the midterms, and there are a lot of them. Currently, a whopping 3.9 million Americans have been unemployed long-term, accounting for almost 40 percent of the total number of jobless citizens.