The lame-duck congressional session due to start next week must grapple once again with extending unemployment benefits to jobless Americans, or millions could begin seeing their benefits dry up after November 30.
The Senate is due to begin a post-election session Nov. 15, before the current 111th Congress closes. The new 112th Congress will convene in January, when the results of the November midterm elections take effect, allowing Republicans to stampede once again to majority status in the House, and causing the Democrats’ majority in the Senate to shrivel.
Independent economists are urging Congress to extend unemployment compensation benefits, both to help struggling out-of-work Americans, and as a further economic stimulus.
One such analysis goes so far as to make the case that such an extension would fit within the mandate of last Tuesday’s elections.
Although data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated faster private sector employment growth than in recent months, the national unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.6 percent for the fourth straight month. Those economic jitters were a main motivator for voters at the polls, which badly punished Democrats.
The U.S. economy is still missing 7.5 million jobs compared to where employment stood at the start of the recession in 2007. An analysis from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that, to return to the pre-recession unemployment rate within five years, the labor market would have to add around 300,000 jobs every month for that entire period.
“Exit polls from Tuesday’s election reveal that what voters want is for Congress to create jobs and end high unemployment. Soon Congress will have a good opportunity to do just that,” according to the EPI analysis. “On November 30th, the federally funded extended unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire. These benefits serve two very useful purposes. One is to provide a lifeline to the unemployed and their families during the deepest and longest downturn since the 1930s.
“But importantly, these benefits also boost spending in the economy and therefore generate jobs. In the paper A Good Deal for All, we estimate that the continuation of unemployment insurance extensions through 2011 will create or save 723,000 full-time-equivalent jobs,” the analysis says. ” With a jobs deficit of 11 million jobs and an unemployment rate of 9.6%, Congress must seize this opportunity.”
Chad Stone, chief economist at the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, concurs.
“Among the 11 fiscal policy measures that the Congressional Budget Office analyzed for increasing economic growth and employment in the next year or two, CBO put aid to the unemployed at the top of the list,” Stone says, adding that failure to approve an extension would “endanger an already fragile economic recovery and cause substantial job losses.”
Extension of unemployment benefits is not a new issue on Capitol Hill. Congressional Democrats have had to pass such extensions several times this year, each time having to muscle through Republican filibusters in the Senate. They approved the most recent extension over the summer only after millions of out-of-work Americans had already started losing benefits.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.