WASHINGTON — Newly empowered Republicans want spending cuts of $5 billion to $6 billion a month as a condition for extending emergency unemployment benefits that are scheduled to expire next month for millions of Americans.
Up to 2 million people could lose the benefits – which average $310 a week nationwide – during the holiday season if the still Democratic-controlled Congress doesn’t act in the postelection lame-duck session. The expiration could affect as many as 5 million by the end of February.
With new employment figures Friday showing 14 million Americans still out of work last month and an unemployment rate stuck at 9.6 percent, President Barack Obama renewed his call for another extension “to help those hardest hit by the downturn while generating more demand in the economy” … //
… Democrats argue that the extended benefits should be paid for with deficit spending because it injects money into the economy. Jobless people immediately spend the cash, they explain. But Republicans note that the government had to borrow 37 cents of every dollar it spent last year, and it’s time to draw the line
“Our friends on the other side simply refuse to pass a bill that does not add to the debt,” McConnell said in a debate on the last extension.
The topic is sure to come up at a Nov. 18 meeting among Obama and leaders of both parties in Congress – their first since the midterm elections in which Republicans won at least 60 seats and a majority in the House. They also grabbed six seats from Democrats in the Senate.
The lame-duck session that convenes Nov. 15 and, in all likelihood, again after Thanksgiving already has an overflowing plate of business. Most if not all legislation will have to be done on a consensus basis – at least in the Senate, where a single senator can gum up the works for days.
Aides to Senate conservatives such as Jim DeMint, R-S.C., say conservatives are unlikely to block an extension of the benefits – so long as they’re paid for.
Finding cuts, however, promises to be exceptionally difficult. In the past, Republicans have targeted unspent money from Obama’s $814 billion stimulus bill – an idea that’s likely to find resistance with Obama and Democrats.
Congressional aides say virtually no behind-the-scenes work has been undertaken to identify spending cuts that both sides could agree on. And many Democrats are still reject the idea that a benefits extension should be paid for with spending cuts.
“I’m not sure that’s where our caucus is right now,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (full text).