December 26, 2013

This week, 1.3 million long-term jobless are rationing the last dollars of their final benefit check — the next round of payments should be going out now, but this group won’t receive checks because congressional Republicans blocked an extension of the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation fund.

With polls already showing a potential voter backlash and local news outlets giving the story serious play, advocates are ratcheting up the pressure even further by taking out television ads depicting Republicans as heartless Scrooges for stripping benefits from the jobless during the holidays. Americans United for Change purchased national airtime on cable channels for this ad, “Bad Santas,” beginning today:

The ad adopts the 99 percent versus the 1 percent framing by noting the richest Americans had a great Christmas because the recently completed budget bill did not touch tax loopholes that only benefit corporations or the very wealthy. But it also did not extend the emergency unemployment program, as the ad notes:

And for those facing tough times? Republicans stripped 1.3 million Americans of jobless benefits — folks who want to work, but cannot find a job — kicking them to the curb during Christmas. So to the 1.3 million Americans losing benefits, Merry Christmas — from the GOP.

It’s a tough spot, and it relies on language that was popular through the 2012 election that paints the GOP as dedicated protectors of the powerful and wealthy at the expense of struggling Americans.

It will be interesting to see if Democrats in Congress adopt the same approach. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has insisted any extension needs an offsetting “pay-for,” so perhaps Democrats would propose a bill that extends the program and pays for it by closing a luxurious tax loophole.

But that, of course, wouldn’t fly with the GOP — and if Democrats did it, it would be weeks down the road when other options were exhausted, passage appeared hopeless and they were content to simply message on the issue.

For now, the idea is to get a bill passed, which is far from impossible. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he will bring a simple three-month extension for a vote as soon as Congress returns, and one Senate Republican is already on board. That means only four more votes are needed there. A small number of House Republicans also favor an extension and are reportedly pressuring Boehner.

To that end, the ad asks viewers to contact their member of Congress and demand the emergency unemployment program be restored. What is particularly useful about this approach is that there’s no pressure coming from the other side — unlike, say, the debate over “Obamacare,” there are no well-funded conservative groups out there pressing for an end to the emergency unemployment program. Based on the polls showing bipartisan support for an extension, the conservative grass roots don’t appear to be fired up about the issue. The passion and activism over jobless benefits is essentially just running in one direction, which is a promising sign.