When congressional Republicans cut off extended unemployment benefits a few days after Christmas, about 1.3 million Americans immediately lost the assistance they need. But the total of those affected was just a floor -- the number goes up by roughly 72,000 every week.
To that end, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee unveiled a running clock
yesterday, showing that the figure increases every eight seconds. As of this morning, over 2.5 million Americans -- nearly double the total when the deadline passed in late December -- have lost benefits.
What are House Republicans prepared to do about it? At this point, not much. Two GOP lawmakers presented an offer
last week: Dems can get jobless aid (a policy that used to enjoy bipartisan backing), but only if they give Republicans the Keystone XL pipeline, an anti-ACA provision that would cause 1 million Americans to lose their employer-based health insurance coverage, and the repeal the medical device tax, which would raise the deficit by $109 billion.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appears to be throwing "spaghetti against the wall" in an attempt to win concessions in exchange for extending emergency unemployment insurance. Earlier this month, Boehner told reporters that it was up to the White House to propose job-creation provisions to attach to a Senate bill reauthorizing unemployment benefits if the president wanted the House to take up the legislation.... Carney insisted Congress "ought to take action" on its own.
We know the affected Americans are struggling without these benefits. We know the aid used to enjoy broad, bipartisan support. And we know the existing policy isn't doing the economy any favors
What we don't know is what the Speaker's office wants in exchange for a vote.
Roll Call reported
overnight that the White House and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez continue to press lawmakers, but the same problem persists.
...Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Boehner, said the effort hasn't yet involved reaching out to the speaker's office. "Nothing recently," Buck replied when asked if the White House had gotten in touch to try and work out a deal.
It's important to realize how little sense this makes. The White House urged Congress to extend the jobless aid and the Senate crafted a bipartisan compromise to do exactly that. House Republicans have said they don't like the Senate bill and have no alternative proposal.
Instead, GOP leaders want the White House to start adding conservative goodies to the bill in order to make Republicans happy. Which conservative goodies? GOP leaders haven't said -- they expect Democrats to just offer stuff they hope Republicans will like.
If Boehner & Co. like the offer, great. If not, Dems are supposed to keep guessing, adding new conservative goodies to the bill in the hopes that Republicans will eventually say they're satisfied.
Legislating through hostage strategies is inherently flawed, but this is arguably dumber -- the folks waiting to be paid a ransom refuse to make any specific demands. "Just guess," they say, "and we'll let you know if we like what you're offering."
For the 2.5 million Americans watching from the sidelines, this must be incredibly painful.