It’s because of funding time bombs like this that Obama’s self-created crisis may end up screwing the long-term unemployed. That’s what happens when you give into Republican extortionists, and the fatal mistake is assuming they’re going to negotiate good faith. Obama should have taken Clinton’s advice, asserted executive power under the Constitution and told them all to kiss his ass. But of course he didn’t:
More than 40% of the nearly five million Americans who receive unemployment insurance are set to lose those benefits if federal programs expire as scheduled at year-end.
Some economists worry that cutting off those benefits could harm the economy by leaving millions of Americans with less money to spend on everything from food to fuel. Others argue that overly generous benefits are helping to prolong joblessness.
About 2.1 million Americans receive payments through federally backed emergency unemployment programs, which Congress adopted starting in 2008 as a temporary supplement to state-level programs funded primarily with taxes on employers, which generally offer six months of benefits. That number has tumbled from more than 3.5 million at the start of the year and a peak of more than six million in early 2010, reflecting not just the gradual improvement of the job market but also new limits that have pushed hundreds of thousands of workers off the rolls before they could find jobs.
Already this year, hundreds of thousands of people have exhausted their jobless benefits. Now, virtually everyone left in the federal programs would lose their benefits if the programs expire as scheduled at year-end.
Congress has repeatedly extended unemployment benefits amid high joblessness, and it could do so again. But the programs have gotten caught up in the fight over the “fiscal cliff,” a package of tax increases and spending cuts due to take effect early next year. Some Democrats are pushing to extend benefits again, but the programs must contend not only with Republican opposition but also competing priorities such as business and individual tax breaks.