Both sides have agreed that they will extend the payroll tax cut for a year without paying for it. The talks are continuing today in the quest for a deal over extending unemployment insurance.
But the spinning is already underway over who is winning this battle, and on that score, a Democrat forwards the talking points that House GOPers are circulating, including this bit:
* Those receiving unemployment benefits must be searching for a job, and every state will be allowed to drug screen workers seeking a job that requires a drug test or who lost a job due to a failed drug test.
* The maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits in most states will be reduced to 63 weeks, versus 93 weeks in most states today.
These are presented in the talking points as victories for the GOP. It’s unclear exactly what the final deal will look like, but the first bullet point above is not quite what Republicans originally had been asking for. They had wanted language allowing states to drug test applicants for unemployment and requiring the to be in GED programs. What’s more, second bullet point above — that benefits in “most states” will be reduced to 63 weeks — is also a point of contention. The emerging deal is likely to also allow 73 weeks in states with particularly high unemployment; it’s unclear how many states would qualify.
The GOP has indeed won concessions. Obama had described 79 weeks as a compromise; it's now down to 63 in many states, though perhaps not all of them. Dems have dropped their demand for the millionaire surtax; the unemployment extension will likely be paid for by federal workers chipping in more for their pensions, as the GOP wanted. On the other hand, Dems won the biggest concession of all — getting the payroll tax cut extended for a year without it being paid for by a bunch of spending cuts that Republicans had hoped to jam down the Dems’ throats.
But that aside, for Democrats involved in this fight, the GOP’s talking points about the concessions they’ve won on unemployment captures a perverse dynamic about this whole mess. GOP leaders are going to have to sell the eventual compromise to House conservatives who are already angry about the payroll tax cut extension. And Democrats suspect that one of the ways they’ll have to do this is to hype the degree to which the compromise cuts unemployment benefits and imposes conditions on the jobless. Because to Tea Partyers who prioritize shrinking government above all else, this is what constitutes “winning.”