As lawmakers wrangle, Americans voice strong support for unemployment extension

Although progressive activists and Democratic U.S. House members hate the Obama-Republican deal on taxes and unemployment extension, the American people like it, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, especially the unemployment extension part, which will see insurance benefits extended for a year as the economy steadily recovers but adds few jobs. Respondents to the poll favored the unemployment extension by more than a two to one margin.

The Hill reports:

Nearly 70 percent of those asked in a recent poll back a bipartisan tax compromise that is set for its first vote Monday afternoon on the Senate floor.

Of the four major elements in the package, a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits received the most support (72 percent) while a proposed two-percentage-point payroll tax cut was the only component that didn’t receive majority support (39%), according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released Monday.

Even when the $858 billion cost of the package is mentioned, 62 percent still support the legislation, according to the poll.

President Obama made the case for the deal last week by saying that the American people wanted action and that Republican leaders were not going to budge on the “holy grail” Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. He said millions of unemployed struggling to find work didn’t care about political points and that the unemployment benefits would work directly as the best kind of stimulus for the economy because the money is spent directly on essential goods and services.

Republicans opposed the unemployment extension as reckless in a time of ballooning deficits. They said they feared the nation was turning unemployment insurance into welfare. They also argued, against the views expressed by most economists, that tax cuts for the wealthy create jobs.

As Ed Brayton at the Michigan Messenger reports, strong support for an unemployment extension is one of the reasons Democrats have criticized President Obama for not pushing for a better deal with Republicans. They say the president should have dared GOP leaders emboldened by the midterm elections to go against such strong public opinion by scuttling the extension.

On Thursday the House Democratic Caucus voted to reject the tax deal in a non-binding vote. If the bill makes it to the floor of the House for a full vote, it should be passed by a fairly wide margin, but that’s a big if: Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may refuse to bring the bill up for a floor vote unless changes are made.

If the House passes the bill with amendments, the Senate could well reject it, letting the unemployment extension drop and leaving the new Republican-majority Congress to take the matter up next year.

More than a million Americans have already lost their unemployment benefits since they lapsed at the end of November. Hundreds of thousands more will lose them every week until the benefits are restored.

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