Unemployment benefits for nearly 1.3 million Americans who’ve been out of work for more than 27 weeks expired last week because Congress did not renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program before leaving for the 2013 winter holidays.
The program, which began in 2008, has provided extended federal assistance for eligible workers who remained jobless after their state relief ran out.
Yesterday, however, this group of unemployed Americans received hope for an extension of their lapsed benefits by an unexpected -- and narrow -- decision on Capitol Hill. With just 60 votes, the minimum needed, the U.S. Senate opted to advance a bill to reinstate the program.
There are still substantial hurdles to clear. Later this week, the Senate will likely vote on whether or not to approve the bill. If it makes it past that vote, the bill will face an even greater challenge in the more conservative House of Representatives.
That’s the real trick. As currently drafted, the bill comes with a price tag around $6.4 billion.
Here’s both sides of the debate:
Yea: If they get their way, President Obama and many other Democrats would see the bill passed with “no strings attached.” Obama argues, “I can’t name a time where I met an American who would rather have an unemployment check than the pride of having a job. The long-term unemployed are not lazy, they’re not lacking in motivation, they’re coping with the aftermath of the worst economic crisis in generations.”
Nay: On the other hand, some federal lawmakers worry that extending this unemployment program will only serve to prolong America’s problem with unemployment. Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama cautions that unemployment insurance is treating the symptoms of the problem, but not the root cause. “It’s an aspirin for a fever,” he says, “but the fever has been raging for weeks now.” There is also the concern among conservatives about the impact of this extension on the national budget and our economy, adding debt when we can least afford it.
Do you think Congress should pass the bill? If so, should it be paid for in the budget at the expense of other programs? Tell us what you think in the comments or in a blog post.