Nearly two months after federal unemployment benefits expired, hope for a short-term restoration of jobless aid has all but disappeared on Capitol Hill. But rather than scale back their expectations, Democrats are aiming for an even more ambitious unemployment insurance package.
Despite weeks of wrangling, Senate Democrats remain still one GOP vote short to restore the federal jobless aid that expired on Dec. 28—and face an even steeper climb in the House. Their original plan had been to pass a three-month extension, then move onto a longer-term fix. But given how much time that has already passed, the focus has now shifted to a six-month or year-long restoration of benefits, according to sources familiar with the talks.
“The Dems no longer want to talk about a three-month extension because quite frankly, by the time it ever passed, it would be one lump sum retroactive check, and we’d be fighting all over again,” says Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, who has been lobbying Congress for an extension.
“Dems believe they have repeatedly offered the GOP everything it’s asked for so I think they’re not inclined to put too much more on the table, for fear of the GOP finding yet another reason to vote no in spite of all their statements to the contrary,” she added.
It’s unclear how a longer-term package would pass muster with Republicans either: The GOP has both insisted on offsets for unemployment insurance and shot down the Democrats’ proposed payfors, most recently blocking a three-month Senate bill that was paid for by “pension-smoothing.”
A longer extension would complicate the issues that have already been holding up the negotiations, especially with regard to the price tag: A year-long aid package would cost $26 billion, and right now, neither Democrats, nor their few Republicans allies, know where the offsets will come from.
Meanwhile, the numbers of long-term unemployed continue to grow—topping an estimated 1.7 million by the end of January—as newly unemployed workers lose their state benefits without a federal backstop.