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Budget deal leaves out the jobless

Democrats are making an eleventh-hour push to save benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) depart after a news conference to introduce The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 at the U.S. Capitol in Dec. 10, 2013.
Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) depart after a news conference to introduce The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 at the U.S. Capitol in Dec. 10, 2013.

Democrats are making an eleventh-hour push to attach an extension of federal jobless benefits to the budget agreement, hoping to keep 1.3 million Americans from losing their unemployment checks at the end of the year.

House Republicans are planning to vote Thursday on the budget framework proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, which does not include jobless aid. Democrats will make a last-ditch attempt to attach an extension to the budget agreement when the House Rules Committee meets Wednesday afternoon to prepare the budget bill for Thursday's vote, according to a Democratic aide.

The effort is unlikely to succeed, given the Republicans' control of the committee, but Democrats say they'll consider every possible avenue to extend the aid and pressure GOP members for a one-year extension, which would cost an estimated $25 billion. Currently, the only mention of jobless aid in the Ryan-Murray deal is a provision to recover overpayments "because of fraud or failure to report earnings."

"Pressure from Democrats, local media and millions of families throughout the country is only going to intensify. This would have a very harmful, tangible impact in communities all throughout the country. We will only continue to make that clear moving forward," says Josh Drobnyk, Democratic spokesman for the House Ways and Means Committee. Democratic aides point out that the expiring jobless aid has made the front page of local papers across the country, including in Ryan's home district in Wisconsin.

Democrats says they'd welcome a stand-alone bill to extend unemployment, but that would require the House GOP leadership to bring the legislation up for a vote. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems resigned to the fact that an extension won't happen before 2014. "Extension of unemployment insurance should have been a part of the deal. I'll push for an extension when Senate convenes after the New Year," Reid tweeted.

Aside from a few outliers like Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) and Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), most Republicans stand firmly opposed to an extension.  "You’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy," Sen. Rand Paul said on Sunday.  

Speaker John Boehner says he is open to proposals for more jobless aid, but he says that Democratic offers haven't been acceptable so far. "When the White House finally called me last Friday about extending unemployment benefits, I said that we would clearly consider it as long as it's paid for and as long as there are other efforts that'll help get our economy moving once again," he told reporters on Wednesday. "I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards."

Advocates for the unemployed say they're not surprised by the difficulties they're facing on Capitol Hill. "We've known from the beginning this was going to be an uphill battle," says Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project.

And there is one fallback solution for Democrats if Congress doesn't act before the end of the year: Unemployment benefits can be restored retroactively, as they were in 2010.