Ways and Means Dems urge hearing on federal jobless benefits

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are urging panel Republicans to ensure that more than 1 million Americans don't lose their jobless benefits during the holidays.

The Democrats sent a letter to Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) on Tuesday urging him to hold a hearing on the upcoming expiration of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. 

Federal benefits for those who have been out of work for at least six months are expiring Dec. 28, and 1.3 million workers in the program will immediately lose their weekly checks without congressional action. 

"We write to request that in the days remaining this year you turn the committee’s focus to the economy, as Americans continue to recover from the deep economic crisis," wrote the panel's 16 Democrats.  

Congress is running out of time to reauthorize the program as the House aims to complete its work and leave for the holidays by Dec. 13. 

Republicans have yet to signal whether they would support a reauthorization although Ways and Means Committee Republicans did point out in a recent blog post that the program has cost $252 billion since it first started in 2008 and has provided little economic benefit. 

House and Senate Democrats teamed up — led by Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) — to introduce legislation last week that would provide another year of federal benefits on top of those provided by the states. 

The White House also is pressing Congress for a yearlong continuation of the program. 

Democrats have said that the best, and probably easiest, place to tack on a continuation of the program would be on any budget deal hashed out by House and Senate budget conferees. 

But there is growing doubt that an agreement will be complete by the Dec. 13 deadline, which would mean that lawmakers will have to look for another vehicle, such as the Medicare 'doc fix.' 

All states except North Carolina offer federal benefits at various levels, which is based on each state's unemployment rate. 

"We invite you to work with us in setting up such a hearing, so that the human consequences of the pending expiration of the federal unemployment insurance program are fully understood," the Democrats wrote. 

"With the end of the year fast approaching, we must hear from Americans who just days after Christmas would immediately lose their unemployment insurance if Congress takes no action."