WASHINGTON -- At a press conference Wednesday Democrats kicked off the annual holiday tradition of demanding Congress save unemployment benefits or else ruin Christmas for more than a million people.
As has been the case for several years in a row, if Congress does nothing, federal unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless will expire around the holidays. As in previous years, Democrats are doing battle using holiday metaphors.
"For this country, the richest in the world, to say to people at Christmastime, when you look in your Christmas sock you're going to find a lump of coal from Congress -- that's wrong," Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said.
"With just a few weeks left to act, [House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)] is really setting himself up to be the Speaker Who Stole Christmas," Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said. "Please don't be the Speaker Who Stole Christmas."
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) invoked Thanksgiving.
"Next week as we gather with our families around the Thanksgiving table to count our blessings, there are too many American families that will be counting their weeks of searching unsuccessfully for work," Doggett said. "If, after a year here in Congress of doing so very little, Republicans take a three-week holiday beginning in mid-December while letting this vital program expire, that small measure of hope will also expire."
Here's HuffPost's Grinchographic:
Infographic by Alissa Scheller for the Huffington Post.
Federal unemployment insurance kicks in for workers who use up state-funded benefits, which in most states last six months. Since World War II, when a recession has hit, Congress has given the long-term jobless extra weeks of federal benefits, but the extensions have been temporary. It's not just under President Barack Obama's watch that federal jobless compensation has faced expiration during the holiday season.
In November 2002, Congress adjourned for the year even though nearly 1 million jobless workers stood to lose benefits after Christmas. "Congress is insisting on playing Scrooge at Christmastime," then-Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) said at the time, according to the Washington Post.
For the past several years, Democrats argued Congress has never dropped extended benefits when the unemployment rate's above 7.2 percent. The rate currently stands at 7.3 percent and has been declining. On Wednesday, HuffPost asked Democrats what they would say if the rate this December is 7.2 percent or lower.
"Just look at the charts!" Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) said, indicating that the long-term unemployed still comprise a disproportionately large share of the jobless compared to previous recessions. "It remains historically high."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the top House Democrat on a special conference committee tasked with crafting a budget by Dec. 13, said he'd discussed the unemployment issue with Republicans on the panel.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said there also were discussions among Senate Finance Committee members about ways to preserve the benefits. She mentioned there are two or three other legislative vehicles for preserving the compensation, including bills relating to Medicare's compensation formula for doctors.
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