Unemployment insurance expired for approximately 800,000 out-of-work Americans yesterday, and two million more will lose their benefits at the end of the year, unless Congress takes action to extend the benefits.
The AFL-CIO, which represents 57 unions and 12.2 million workers, blames the Republican Party.
Congressional Republicans have chosen to side with the nation's millionaires instead of the jobless, said Mike Hall on the organization's website.
They chose to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy as their top priority this lame-duck session and essentially have told workers struggling to find work in an economy with five job hunters for every opening: Tough luck. Happy holidays, Hall said.
In November, before breaking for the Thanksgiving holiday, a bill to extend unemployment insurance until Feb. 28, 2011 was defeated in the House of Representatives, where a two-thirds majority was required for passage. Democrats hold a majority in the House but not a two-thirds majority. Most Republicans voted against the measure.
On Monday, Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT, introduced a bill in the Senate that would extend UI benefits for a year. Not having the required three-fifths majority support to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, the measure was referred to committee.
Taking away these benefits only places greater strain on out-of-work Americans already struggling to put food on the table and provide for their families, especially during this holiday season, and drives down consumer spending which weakens our economy, Baucus said. We need to act now to continue these unemployment insurance benefits to give the Americans looking for work - and our economy - the certainty and support they need.
The Republican position is not to increase the deficit by providing an extension to unemployment insurance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has expressed the GOP stance on several occasions.
A little while ago, I delivered a letter to Senator Reid signed by all 42 Senate Republicans, McConnell said today. It says that every Republicans will vote against proceeding to any legislative matter until we've funded the government and protected every taxpayer from a tax hike.
McConnell is referring to the Bush-era tax cuts, due to expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress acts to extend them. The Obama administration is for extending the cuts for people making under $250,000 a year. Republicans are for extending the cuts for everyone, including the 2 percent of Americans who make over $250,000 a year.
Republican characterize the expiration as meaning a big tax hike for all Americans. President Obama has said the GOP are distorting the situation and has termed their position as unwise and unfair.
Democrats say that extending the tax cuts to the nation's wealthiest citizens adds significantly to the deficit, an action the GOP says it opposes.
The AFL-CIO points to Sen. Mark Kirk, R-IL, as emblematic of Republican hypocrisy.
These proposals to extend unemployment insurance by just adding it to the deficit are misguided, Kirk said in a recent interview.
We should extend the Bush tax cuts and make sure we don't have a double-dip recession, Kirk said in the same interview.
About 100 jobless workers from across the nation will lobby for the one-year UI extension today in Washington. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler will join them. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA and other lawmakers are expected to also participate.
Currently, the national unemployment rate is 9.6 percent. At the current rate, without a reauthorization, we would cut the lifeline that millions of Americans use to stay afloat, Harkin said. Equally importantly, we would endanger our fragile economic recovery by reducing the amount Americans spend on groceries, utilities and other basic needs.
Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, has written a letter to the President and the Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, urging them to extend the UI benefits.
I write you out of concern for the jobless, who through no fault of their own, cannot find work in an economy with only one job vacancy for every five unemployed workers, and who depend on Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to pay their rent or mortgage, pay for groceries and gas, and pay for their heating bills and other utilities, Mishel said.
He said he also writes out of concern for the economy and noted that 33 prominent economists have signed on to his letter warning lawmakers that letting the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program expire will weaken the economy by reducing the spending of the unemployed and overall consumer demand.
Congress can still take up the matter in lame duck, but it will require at least some Republican backing to move the legislation.