The first salvo in what threatens to be a protracted war over unemployment benefits was launched today when the House of Representatives failed to pass a bill that would have given the unemployed three more months to file for extended jobless benefits. Congress has extended the deadline to file for unemployment four times in the past year but with the changed political climate and Republicans about to take over the House, this fight promises to be especially bitter. Republicans want the benefits, which cost billions of dollars, to be made budget neutral to lessen their impact on the federal deficit; they also want them tied to a permanent extension of the Bush-era tax cuts. Democrats, on the defensive, argue that one of the government’s biggest jobs is to support Americans in need, and with millions of Americans out of work now is not the time to be haggling over the debt. The unemployed have collected $319 billion in benefits over the past three years—should the benefits have an end in sight or is the economy just too weak to cut the unemployed loose?
Robert Lerman, institute fellow at The Urban Institute and professor and economics at the American University