Democrats turn up pressure on extending long-term jobless aid

President Obama has called for an extension as part of a deficit-reduction package he is negotiating with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who has not agreed to the provision. 

Time is running out for the two to make a deal, and Boehner on Tuesday announced he would proceed with a “Plan B” vote Thursday on legislation that would lock in tax rates on annual family income less than $1 million. Rates on income above $1 million would expire, but the package would not include other matters, including the unemployment extension.

Democrats on Tuesday sought to turn up the pressure on Republicans to agree to extend the benefits, which would cost $30 billion and prevent 2 million people from quickly losing the help. 

Without action, “2 million people [will go] into a financial free-fall,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), who has taken the lead on the issue in the upper chamber.

Supporters of the extension said they remained confident it would be included in a final deal. 

“We are very, very confident that it will be taken care of in a fiscal-cliff deal and cautiously optimistic that a deal will be done,” said Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator with the National Employment Law Project. 

If the two sides can’t reach a deal before the program expires, Conti said, they should renew it when they come back. 

“If things fall apart and we go over the cliff, we have to consider: How long will the program lapse?” Conti said. 

Rob Nabors, head of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, told House Democrats on Tuesday that extending the benefits is a priority for Obama.

“I think for the White House this issue is very prominent, as it is for Democrats and, I hope, Republicans,” Levin said. 

Advocates are pressing for a one-year extension of legislation approved in February. 

The 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 cost has been estimated at $30 billion, though Levin said Tuesday that he estimates it will cost $25 billion for a year. Supporters argue the cost of the program will fall as state economies improve and people fall off the unemployment rolls. The length of federal benefits is linked to individual jobless rates in states.