Job seekers stand in line to meet with prospective employers at a career fair in New York City, October 24, 2012.
Mike Segar/Reuters

Crossing an ignominious threshold

A few days after Christmas, congressional Republicans cut off unemployment benefits for roughly 1.3 million Americans, but that was only the initial shock. The number of Americans whose jobless benefits are expiring climbs, on average, by more than 10,000 people per day.
 
And as Wesley Lowery reported yesterday, that means the nation crossed an ignominious threshold this week.
The number of Americans who would qualify for federal long-term unemployment benefits – a program Congress allowed to expire in December – has now hit 3 million, according to Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee. […]
 
Under the federal unemployment system, someone who loses a job typically receives unemployment benefits from the state for 26 weeks. But in 2008, Congress voted to provide additional aid that made checks available for as long as 99 weeks in the hardest-hit states. Last year, lawmakers cut the maximum benefit to 73 weeks. Then, at the end of December, Congress let federal aid lapse altogether.
In modern American history, no Congress, regardless of party control, has let extended benefits expire when the unemployment rate is as high as it is now.
 
Dana Houle, however, noted that the headline on the Washington Post told readers that 3 million Americans are now without unemployment benefits “due to congressional gridlock.”
 
Given the seriousness of the issue, it makes sense to hold policymakers responsible for their actions, which is why blaming “gridlock” probably isn’t as descriptive as it should be.
 
In this case, Senate Democrats have made repeated attempts to extend jobless aid, and while most of those efforts were blocked by a Republican filibuster, in early April, the upper chamber approved a bipartisan compromise to extend unemployment benefits.
 
House Republicans soon after announced it would ignore the bill, refusing to even allow members to vote on it, even after independent economists said the measure would be worth hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
 
If Republicans oppose the Senate Democratic approach, what’s the House GOP’s alternative solution? It doesn’t have one. There is no alternative bill.
 
I suppose in a way that means “gridlock” is to blame, but the label shields those actually responsible – in this case, the House Republican majority – from being held accountable.
 
This need not be seen as necessarily partisan or ideological. For those who believe jobless aid is awful – Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) recently argued that it’s “immoral” to extend jobless aid to “long-term unemployments” – this is probably a development worth boasting about.
 
Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week that he hasn’t yet given up on the issue, though in the face of a House Republican roadblock, it’s hard to see how there will be a positive resolution for those who need the aid to keep their heads above water.
 

House Republicans and Unemployment

Crossing an ignominious threshold