Back in December, after a grueling year of fighting for short-term reauthorizations on unemployment benefits extensions, in a deal that allowed the wealthiest 3 percent of Americans to continue receiving tax breaks enacted during the Bush administration, Democrats were able to get Republicans to vote for a bill that included a 73-week unemployment extension package. Also back in December, Democrats shelved talks of completing the 2011 federal fiscal budget and doing something about the debt ceiling to concentrate on winning the extensions. In two long, drawn-out battles, both the 2011 budget and the raising of the debt ceiling was accomplished. But now the unemployment extensions will soon reach their termination date with over 6 million currently in the long-term unemployment benefits Tiers (of which there are four), according to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It would appear that last year's last big Congressional battle may see a rematch.
The current unemployment rate in the United States is officially 9.1 percent (13.9 million individuals), down .1 percent from June unemployment figures. The long-term jobless (those unemployed for 27 weeks or longer) constitute nearly have of all those currently receiving unemployment benefits (44.4 percent). According to the long-range economic forecast from the Federal Reserve in late 2010, the unemployment rate is not expected to fall below 9 percent in 2011, nor is it expected to go below 8 percent in 2012.
Some were hoping that at least some form of reauthorization would have been included in the recent Congressional battle to raise the debt ceiling. However, with Democrats and Republicans barely agreeing on anything (mostly driven by moderate GOP Congressional members' fear of Tea Party electoral retaliation), there was nothing in the legislation concerning unemployment.
Democrats will again attempt to get another long-term deal on the extensions, hopefully a deal that will take the unemployment extensions through the election year. Republicans, who suddenly became extreme fiscal conservatives after the end of the Bush administration, will again attempt to deny the jobless federally extended benefits.
What will most likely play out is this: Republicans, led by the very vocal Tea Party, will once more press the Democrats for spending cuts in the proposed 2012 federal fiscal budget (the current 2011 federal fiscal year ends on September 30). They will also press for some form of funding or financial offset to balance out whatever amount of extension the Democrats attempt to gain in benefits. Much like they did in the debt ceiling "debate," where they agreed to negotiate but would only agree to spending cuts and talks of budgetary caps and a balanced budget amendment (but gave up next to nothing in return), Republicans will enter the unemployment benefits extension "debate" with primarily the same strategy.
The "debate" will most likely continue up until the Christmas Congressional recess, just as it did in last year's heated debate. Both sides will posture and point fingers at the duplicitousness, the disingenuousness, and the unfair bargaining practices of the opposing sides before an eleventh-hour agreement is struck. Republicans will attempt to put forth short-term plans, just as they did in 2010, the better to keep the economic numbers in the foreground in an election year. Again, Democrats will go long-term in an attempt to circumvent dealing with the legislation throughout the election year (because joblessness and the sluggish economy will dominate the campaign regardless).
But passage of another extension will be important to the economy as well as to the millions of long-term unemployed that will still be unemployed (according to projections) deep into 2012. Republicans might fight for the best spending-cuts-to-unemployment-benefits-dollars deal they can get but in order to not be perceived as heartless politicians, they will eventually grant the reauthorization.
Of course, they could push that reauthorization on into 2012, granting a retroactive payment scheme as was done in last year's deal.
With the Tea Party Republicans, a faction that has had no problem airing grievances against federally extended benefits (and openly calling for their elimination) and showing they are willing to withhold their votes to get what they want at any cost, involved in the battle this Congressional session, expect the rhetoric to become a bit more heated, the political posturing to become ever-present. And if the Tea Party continues to maintain its uncompromising methods of governance, and even if they gain another small victory, expect them to come out of the unemployment benefits battle with more Americans disapproving of their style of governing than after the finalizing of the budget deficit/debt ceiling deal.