Unemployment benefits likely on hold until mid-December

While that approach could work fine in the House because Democrats have a large enough majority to push through the extension, the chances are nearly impossible of a stand-alone bill getting through the Senate, especially since Senate Republicans have vowed to hold up all other legislation until the tax cuts are done. 

Senate Democrats failed on Tuesday to push through a one-year extension while Republicans offered a yearlong bill with the cost offset with unused or unobligated federal funds. House and Senate Democrats, along with the White House, are pushing for a one-year extension that isn't paid for, at an estimated cost of $56.4 billion. 

Republicans and some Democrats also oppose treating the extension as emergency spending that adds to the deficit and want Democrats to put forward a paid-for version. 

Hoyer also acknowledged that combining unemployment benefits with the George W. Bush-era tax cuts “has been on the table” in discussions between Democrats and Republicans. With formal tax cut talks beginning Wednesday, lawmakers have broached the idea of a grand bargain that would link action on several pending items, including the unemployment benefits and the Start treaty with Russia, in exchange for a compromise on tax cuts, the most contentious issue of the lame-duck session.

“I think that making a political deal on unemployment insurance is not what America ought to be about,” Hoyer said.

He said the House is considering another vote on extending the insurance benefits after a vote in November failed to pass. The earlier vote on a three-month extension was held under suspension rules requiring a two-thirds majority, and a subsequent effort could occur under a normal procedure requiring a simple majority, making it more likely to pass, Hoyer said.

The benefits are expected to run out for 800,000 unemployed workers by the end of next week and 2 million by the end of the month. More than 1 million who have exhausted their 26 weeks of state benefits and rely on the federal extension will probably be affected if a bill isn't passed until mid-month.