As U.S. lawmakers return to work on Capitol Hill on Monday during the first full week of 2014, the first piece of legislation that they will address is a proposal to temporarily extend emergency unemployment benefits for 1.3 million unemployed Americans over the next 3 months.
Initiated in 2008 by President George Bush, the emergency unemployment compensation program extends unemployment benefits beyond the 26 week period that U.S. states offer and provides 47 weeks of supplemental unemployment insurance payments to help unemployed Americans searching for employment.
Senator Dean Heller, (R-Nevada) and Senator Jack Reed, (D-Rhode Island) have introduced the 3 month short-term bipartisan bill to extend the federal unemployment program which is expected to gain traction in the Democrat-majority Senate but face an uphill climb in the Republican controlled House.
Many House Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), have resisted calls to have the federal government spend another $6.4 billion to fund the unemployment extension unless it could be paid for by lowering federal deficit.
The cost of extending unemployment benefits jumps up to $25 billion for the full year of 2014.
Gene B. Sperling, Director of Economic Counsel and adviser to President Obama, said on NBC’S Meet the Press on Sunday that now is the time to pass the Heller-Reed proposal that extends unemployment benefits for another 3 months and buys more time to figure out a way to extend the benefits for the rest of 2014.
“Fourteen of the last seventeen times that emergency unemployment has been extended there have been no strings attached. All five times that President Bush extended unemployment benefits there were no pay-fors.” Sperling explained.
On Monday the Senate will vote on Janet Yellen’s nomination as the next Fed chair.
Yellen is widely expected to be confirmed for the position, making her the first female Fed Chair.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill also have a January 15th deadline to reach an agreement over a spending bill to keep the federal government funded and avoid the same type of partial government shutdown that occurred in October and led to House Republicans falling to record lows in approval polls.
Most political analysts are expecting some type of an agreement to be reached before January 15th without much political fireworks since the bipartisan budget agreement approved last month that delayed the sequester cuts for 2 years also gave the House and Senate Appropriations Committees more time to work out the details of a new budget plan that keeps the federal government funded through September.
The topic of raising the nation’s borrowing authority or debt limit by the February 7th deadline is another story and could lead to some more fiscal drama on Capitol Hill over how to responsibly enact fiscal reforms in a country that carries a massive federal deficit of $ 17.265 trillion.
President Obama has said in late 2013 that he won’t negotiate over raising the nation’s borrowing authority.
Although 2014 is an election year and House Republicans want to avoid tarnishing the image of their party and becoming another target of the public’s angst as they were last October during the federal government shutdown, they are not expected to become passive over an important fiscal matter that has significance for the future of the country.