POLITICS
12/31/2012 11:52 am ET Updated Dec 31, 2012

Unemployment Benefits Lapse 'An Absolute Travesty,' Democrats Say

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats on Sunday lamented that Congress has stranded 2 million jobless Americans by failing to reauthorize long-term unemployment insurance before it lapsed on Saturday.

"An absolute travesty," Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) said. "Some of them on the other side are saying, 'We've got a scheduling issue, with trying to get back for New Year's' -- come on, what about these people?"

Larson, a member of the Democratic leadership team in the House of Representatives, blamed Republicans for holding up a solution to the "fiscal cliff" -- the moment at the end of the year when big tax hikes and spending cuts are scheduled to take effect.

"They're at war with their own government, and so they believe to hold up the government, to put everybody up to the cliff, to play chicken politics, is the way that they have governed," Larson said. "They haven't done a thing. That is why the institution has its lowest rating in its history, because they don't believe in this process."

During recessions, Congress routinely makes federal unemployment insurance available for workers who use up six months of state-funded benefits while looking for jobs. The federal benefits, which last 47 weeks in states with high unemployment rates, lapsed on Dec. 29 thanks to congressional inaction. According to the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy nonprofit, more than 2 million workers have received their final checks.

"We're talking about over 2 million people that will be impacted next week," Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said. "The checks that are missed will not come next week unless we act."

Congress has allowed federal compensation to lapse before -- once for seven whole weeks in 2010. After the benefits were reauthorized, beneficiaries received lump sum payments for the weeks they'd missed. Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama have been adamant that a reauthorization of the jobless aid be a part of any fiscal cliff deal.

HuffPost asked Levin if it was just a matter of time.

"It should be done now," he said. "I don't want to put it off. It should be done now."

Republicans haven't said much about unemployment insurance, which suggests to many observers that they won't put up too huge a fight about keeping the benefits. But Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) suggested on Sunday that he might like to see some concessions from Democrats in exchange for renewing them.

"I think we need to revisit unemployment benefits," Ribble said. "We need to make sure long term unemployed, that we don't leave them completely in the lurch, but on the same hand, you can't continue to pay people not to work forever ... I think some decrease, some reduction in the deadline would be a good negotiating spot."

Republicans won reductions early in 2012, when the maximum combined duration of state and federal benefits went from 99 to 73 weeks. Laid-off workers in only nine states are eligible for the full 73 weeks.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that keeping the benefits through 2013 would cost $30 billion and generate significant economic growth.

"I don't see how we can not do it," Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) said. "It's not just because it's the right and moral thing to do, but as it relates to the economy and disposable income and the fact that you get more return back into the economy ... I really think it's going to happen. [Republicans] aren't talking about it, I think, because they've accepted it."

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