Democrats are using the current congressional holiday to prepare for the first big political fight of 2014. They are accusing Republicans of a failure to extend unemployment benefits, leaving an estimated 1.3 million Americans without such assistance, and trying to portray the GOP as heartless, elitist and isolated from the concerns of everyday people.
Triggering Democratic outrage was the departure of congressional Republicans from Washington for their winter vacation without approving an extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation fund. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says it was an "immorality" that the benefits were not included in a recent budget deal. "We have an emergency here right now," Pelosi told reporters. "The check is not in the mail."
Democrats plan to raise the issue in the Senate--perhaps by forcing a vote on a three-month extension-- as soon as Congress returns to Washington in January.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters earlier this month that he would consider the extension only if cuts were made elsewhere in the federal budget to compensate for the lost revenue. But legislators couldn't agree on those cuts so the jobless benefits weren't approved.
Brad Woodhouse, president of the liberal advocacy group Americans United for Change, told reporters in an email, "Boehner and fellow Washington Republicans are hopelessly out of touch, and their decision to Scrooge over a million unemployed Americans three days after Christmas is the latest and among the worst examples of it." Americans United plans to run ads on national cable TV over the holidays calling attention to the GOP inaction, Woodhouse said.
The jobless benefits are scheduled to expire Saturday for 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed.
Public Policy Polling, in a survey commissioned by Americans United for Change, found that, in four House swing districts now represented by Republicans, bipartisan majorities of at least 60 percent support extending long-term unemployment benefits. The districts are in California, Colorado, Illinois and Michigan. In Boehner's Ohio district, 63 percent want the unemployment benefits extended, the PPP survey found.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.