House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) yesterday punted negotiations over how to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff” back to the Senate, but in that chamber, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now demanding spending cuts to pay for an extension to the federal unemployment insurance program that expires at the end of the year.
Without an extension, 2 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance on January 1; another million will fall out of the program in the early months of 2013. But with the Senate rushing to act before the end of the year, McConnell is again asking for spending cuts to offset the program’s extension, the Associated Press reports:
For the Senate to act, it would require a commitment from Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell not to demand a 60-vote margin to consider the legislation on the Senate floor. McConnell’s office says it’s too early to make such an assessment because Obama’s plan is unclear on whether extended benefits for the unemployed would be paid for with cuts in other programs or on how it would deal with an expiring estate tax, among other issues.
More than 500,000 have already lost unemployment insurance because Congress restricted eligibility the last time the program expired, and America’s unemployment program is one of the world’s stingiest. Still, it kept 2.3 million out of poverty last year alone, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that a full, year-long extension would lead to the creation of 300,000 new jobs.
Opponents of the federal unemployment program, which George W. Bush signed into law in 2008 (unemployment insurance is generally handled by states), have argued that it creates a culture of dependency and laziness. But the federal program requires recipients to search for a job while receiving payments, and one study showed that people on unemployment search harder for jobs than those who are not receiving money from the program.