12/30/2013 10:42 am ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

The House GOP's Holiday Gift to the Unemployed

Right before they left for the holidays, Republicans in the House of Representatives left a lump of coal in the stockings of 1.3 million Americans. On Saturday, long-term unemployment benefits for those struggling Americans expired, leaving them and their families to face the continuing fallout of the recession with nowhere to turn for assistance.

While many have heard about the disastrous impact this will have on 1.3 million people and our entire economy, few are aware that a bipartisan solution was at hand. Republicans could have avoided this latest manufactured crisis by including the extension of unemployment benefits in the recently enacted budget and paying for it by ending unnecessary corporate welfare to big agribusiness companies. But Rep. Paul Ryan, leading the Republicans in the budget negotiations, refused.

When the budget came to the floor of the House two weeks ago, I led a vote to reconsider extending unemployment insurance during debate on the rule. Every single Democrat voted to allow a three month extension of benefits to come to the floor -- yet only one solitary Republican was willing to cross the aisle to extend these critical benefits. Watch my speech from the House floor on extending unemployment benefits by clicking here.

Republicans justified their position with a perverse logic -- that it builds character for people to go hungry and taking these benefits away will help people find work. This flies in the face of both the economic and moral implications of cutting off this emergency aid. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that because these benefits are injected directly into our economy, a failure to extend long-term unemployment benefits will mean the loss of 200,000 jobs. That means families looking for work will have fewer jobs to compete for and no benefits on which to fall back. The fact of the matter is that people receiving unemployment insurance, including 20,000 veterans, want to work and are actively looking for a job. In the United States of America, we believe in providing a lift up, not a kick while you are down. Unemployment insurance is that lift up.

Republicans also argue that the economy has recovered sufficiently so that we can cut off benefits for the long-term unemployed. No doubt, we have made significant economic gains since the economic crisis that triggered the great recession in 2008. Corporate profits continue to soar and the stock market has rebounded with the Dow Jones Industrial Average breaking the 16,000 point mark earlier this year. The unemployment rate has fallen to 7.1 percent from a peak of over 10 percent, and the economy grew at a 4.1 percent clip this past quarter. Our country's economy as a whole is surely in better shape than it was five Christmases ago -- but working class families are still struggling. A recent study showed that 95 percent of the economic gains made from 2009-2012, during the heart of the recovery, went to the wealthiest 1 percent while everyone else shared 5 percent of the gains.

We must address the long-term trend of income inequality instead of continuing to chip away at the economic security of the middle class and those trying to work their way into the middle class. We must do better in 2014, and I will continue to demand a more responsible fiscal path forward for our nation that ensures all Americans benefit from our economic growth, starting with retroactively extending unemployment insurance for the 1.3 million Americans who were left out in the cold by Congressional Republicans this holiday season.