At a closed door meeting today, Nancy Pelosi told House Democrats to “embrace the suck” and support the budget deal, even though it doesn’t include an extension of unemployment benefits for the 1.3 million Americans who are set to lose them just after Christmas. That quote is creating some buzz, but this is the really galling bit:
While she expressed a continued unhappiness that there will be no vote on those benefits before the House heads home Friday, she said that it wasn’t worth holding up the deal.
So, no vote on extending unemployment benefits before the House goes home tomorrow. Oh, well. Now what?
It’s worth reiterating just how dramatic an outcome this really is. It’s unclear whether Congress has ever cut off unemployment insurance with long-term unemployment this high; it certainly has not happened since the middle of last century, and probably before.
There is still an outside chance the benefits do get renewed. It is possible that, as House Members interact with constituents in the run-up to the holiday season, the pressure could be intense enough from local media coverage of constituents set to get cut off that the House could still hold a vote by unanimous consent to extend the benefits. There’s precedent for it; that’s how the payroll tax cut was extended at end of 2011.
Or, alternatively, Harry Reid has said he will take it up as soon as the Senate returns in the new year. If an extension were to happen then it could be made retroactive.
The question is whether lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — will care enough to make it happen.
“It’s as if a big company all of a sudden laid off 1.3 million people in one fell swoop without any severance,” Josh Drobnyk, spokesman for Dem Rep. Sander Levin, who is pushing hard for an extension, tells me. “These are people who will go from getting a $300 check to getting nothing. No one can really know what the reaction will be. We believe the pressure will be intense.”
Of course, Democrats and some observers — including the proprietor of this blog — thought the bite of the sequester might lead to public pressure to lift it. Though the sequester did have a real impact, it got little national media play, and the impact was too diffuse to concentrate the minds of lawmakers, so the response ended up being mostly a collective shrug. Perhaps the same will happen again. Merry Christmas, folks!