Unemployment Benefits Top Congress' 2014 To-Do List

A measure to temporarily extend unemployment benefits, which lapsed last month, faces a procedural vote in the Senate Monday.

Unemployment Benefits Top Congress' 2014 To-Do List
Bloomberg / Tim Boyle

Congress is back to work Monday with quite the to-do list, but first on its agenda? Unemployment benefits. 

Long-term jobless benefits expired for more than a million people at the end of last month when lawmakers didn’t renew the program before their holiday break. (Via CNN)

Monday, the Senate will consider a bipartisan proposal that temporarily extends those benefits for three months. (Via Euronews

SEN. JACK REED: “This is not a handout. Everyone who is seeking these benefits is actively seeking work. They’ve already paid into the system. They’re working people who can’t find jobs in this economy.” (Via Office of Sen. Jack Reed)

And while bipartisan, it’s unclear whether that White House-backed measure would have enough votes to break a filibuster in the Democratic-led Senate. 

As The Wall Street Journal notes, so far only one Republican Senator has voiced support for the measure, and four more would be needed if all 55 Democrats vote yes. 

Those Democrats, including Sen. Harry Reid, argue not extending the benefits will hurt the economy because without them, recipients will have to scale back their spending.

REID: “Republicans in the Senate should agree with the Republicans around the country. Republicans around America want us to do something to extend these benefits. Why? Because it’s good for the economy.” (Via CBS)

But among many Republicans, there’s the view that long-term unemployment benefits create a disincentive to work. At the very least, they say, the program — which costs about $25 billion annually — should be offset with spending cuts. (Via Office of House Speaker John Boehner, Office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor)

Here’s Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.

PAUL: “I have always said that I’m not opposed to unemployment insurance …. am opposed to having it without paying for it.” (Via ABC)

Of course, how the benefits battle plays out could have some big 2014 implications ... with November's midterm elections now just 10 months away, and attack ads like these applying pressure on Republicans to cut a deal.

“To the 1.3 million Americans losing benefits, Merry Christmas from the GOP.” (Via Americans United For Change

If Congress chooses not to act, the Obama administration estimates that number could grow to 4.9 million people within a year.