Failure of Boehner’s 'Plan B' may help unemployment benefits extension

Congressional Democrats and the White House could gain some leverage in their push to extend federal unemployment benefits amid a failed attempt by Republicans to pass a separate tax plan.

Advocates argue that their negotiating hand has strengthened in talks to include a yearlong extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed in a year-end deficit-reduction plan following the failure of the House GOP to pass its "Plan B" measure.

Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Program, said President Obama's and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) positions have improved to include a renewal after Republicans were forced to pull a bill that would have extended tax cuts for those making less than $1 million a year because they could not round up enough votes.

She called the attempt by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) the "latest round of political theater designed to give Boehner leverage" in the continuing "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

"It failed miserably, and was nothing short of ridiculous," she told The Hill.

Two million people shouldn't be left out in the cold because "these people can't act like grownups," she added.

Although advocates have been confident that any year-end package would probably include an extension of the $30 billion program,  the inability of Republicans to pass the tax plan could provide greater bargaining capability for Democrats.

President Obama has called for an extension as part of a deficit-reduction package that would preserve benefits for more than 2.1 million.

Those benefits are set to expire Dec. 29, ahead of the expiration of looming spending and tax issues.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the House Ways and Means Committee's ranking member, called it "totally unacceptable" that lawmakers are risking the welfare of millions during the Christmas holidays.

"[The] failure of Plan B illustrates the need for a comprehensive solution to the fiscal cliff," he told The Hill.

"The onus lies on congressional Republicans to join with Democrats and the president to reach an agreement on the fiscal cliff that doesn’t leave unemployed Americans out in the cold."

Conti urged lawmakers and the White House to work together and forge ahead with a plan.

"It's time to stop the political theater, stop the posturing and get to the table and find something that the majority of Congress can pass," she said.

Still, some senior lawmakers said the issue goes beyond improving Democrats' negotiating hand.

“My concern is not who has the upper hand in D.C., but that the hands of 2 million Americans will be empty of any insurance payment if Congress fails to act by Saturday, January 5," Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) told The Hill.

Doggett, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, was among senior House Democrats who said earlier this week that they wouldn't leave Washington until Congress extends jobless benefits.

A benefits extension had gained traction among many Democrats, but Republicans haven't talked in detail about where they stand on the issue.

An extension would provide a maximum of 47 weeks of federal benefits for those unemployed for more than six months.

Combined with state-level benefits, the long-term unemployed would have a minimum of 34 weeks of benefits and a maximum of 73 weeks.

The length of federal benefits is linked to individual jobless rates in states.