Dems on offense over unemployment benefits?

 

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

With virtually all Senate Republicans expected to vote later today against extending unemployment benefits, the Hill reports that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plans to go on offense over the issue, putting out releases hitting individual Republican Senate candidates for opposing the extension:

“Because of Republican Senate candidates and the reckless economic agenda they have embraced, long-term jobless insurance has expired for more than 1 million Americans who have been looking for work for at least 26 weeks, denying families the crucial relief they need while costing the economy an estimated 240,000 jobs,” the DSCC release says.

So how will red state Dems handle the issue? Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell, supports the extension. Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst emails:

“Alison supports the bipartisan effort in the Senate to extend unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance benefits are the only source of income for many in Kentucky, especially for the 1,200 coal miners who recently lost their jobs in Pike County.”

Good to see. I expect Grimes and some other red state Dems to embrace the issue somewhat cautiously, in a manner similar to their handling of Obamacare. They won’t go out of their way to make a fight over it, but where appropriate will make the case that the Dem stance is the right one for working people in their states.

Later today, we’ll get a better sense of how others are approaching it. Most Dems I’ve spoken to today expect Arkansas’ Mark Pryor and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu to vote for the Reed-Heller bill extending benefits for three months (though folks are less certain of Landrieu’s vote). Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan is embracing the issue quite aggressively, blasting state Republicans (one of whom is her likely opponent) for taking actions that ended benefits for more than 170,000 people.

The fight over unemployment benefits, and even more so the minimum wage, are central to Dem efforts to make 2014 less about Obamacare and more about the economy — which would benefit from a UI extension and minimum wage hike — enabling Dems to hit Republicans for actively holding back the recovery.

And so, if today’s vote in the Senate fails, Dems will look for ways to keep the issue alive, for example by starting up negotiations over Republicans over whether they would be willing to extend benefits if they are paid for, as some of them (including Rand Paul) insist they would.

Meanwhile, Senate aides tell me to expect a Senate vote on the minimum wage in the next couple of months, which would draw attention to the issue deeper into 2014. The minimum wage, in some ways, could be an easier issue for Dems in tougher states and districts to grab on to (as Grimes is already doing), since (unlike unemployment insurance) it doesn’t play into GOP narratives about Dems forever doling out government handouts to the “takers.”

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