Tied to tax debate, unemployment benefits likely to lapse

Democrats in Washington are catching on to the idea that they can’t capitulate to an extension of Bush-era tax rates for the rich without at least demanding something in return, and an extension of federal unemployment benefits, set to expire at the end of the month, is increasingly looking like it will be a part of the bargain. While Democratic leadership is still opposed, in theory, to any extension of tax cuts for the top two percent of American income earners, politicians on both sides of the aisle have begun floating a possible deal that would link an extension of the tax cuts to an extension of unemployment benefits:

Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican in leadership, said he could back extending jobless benefits, favored by Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in exchange for an extension of all Bush-era tax cuts, including for the wealthiest groups.

“What we’re going to do is sit down and talk with Mrs. Pelosi,” Sessions told Reuters as he left a meeting of House Republicans. “I see nothing wrong with her winning as long as the American people do.” […]

“It really strikes me as hard to explain why we would give charity to the richest people in America with additional tax cuts of $100,000 a year and deny the basic necessities of life to people who are out of work through no fault of their own,” said Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.

Obviously, no deal is yet in sight, but the comments above indicate that a link between the two concepts is becoming increasingly likely — and it’s doubtless a good messaging strategy for Democrats. As a lobbyist pushing for a year-long unemployment benefits extension told the Huffington Post, “Leadership is very aware of the beautiful symmetry of tax cuts for millionaires doesn’t need to be offset but $293 a week for the long-term unemployed does.”

Neither the Senate nor the House plans to be in session next week, however, meaning an extension of unemployment benefits would have to pass this week for nearly 2 million Americans to avoid losing their benefits come December. Linking the extension to the tax cut debate might give it a greater chance of passing, but it also seems destined to drag out the debate and virtually ensure that Congress will allow the crucial benefits to lapse one again. With Republican leadership rescheduling its much anticipated meeting with President Obama until after Thanksgiving, don’t look for any major deals to occur in the meantime.

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Jesse Zwick

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