Okay, maybe we shouldn't cut off the lifeline for the unemployed. Maybe. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Okay, maybe we shouldn’t cut off the lifeline for the unemployed. Maybe. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Today, the Senate will vote on a plan to extend the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program by three months, and the expectation is most or virtually all Republican Senators will vote against extending a lifeline to thousands or even tens of thousands of their own constituents.

What happens if the measure is defeated? One potentially key tell is that on ABC News yesterday, Senator Rand Paul, surprisingly, declared that he is open to an extension:

“I’ve always said that I’m not opposed to unemployment insurance, I am opposed to having it without paying for it….But I’m not against having unemployment insurance. I do think, though, that the longer you have it, that it provides some disincentive to work, and that there are many studies that indicate this…we have to figure out how to create jobs and keep people from becoming long-term unemployed…if we extend it, we pay for it.  But, two, we add something to it that would create jobs.”

This is interesting, because in recent weeks, Paul has taken the lead in presenting the philosophical case against extending unemployment insurance. In December, he claimed: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.” His current stance softens that somewhat — he now says vaguely that if you have it longer, it provides “some” disincentive to working. And his emphasis yesterday was more on paying for it.

Several House Republicans also said yesterday that they’d support an extension if it’s paid for or matched by Dem concessions.

What this all suggests is that Republicans may be moving to mitigate any damage they might suffer when the extension fails. By professing agreement with the goal of extending UI, and saying they disagree with Dems over whether to pay for it right now, the defeat can be blamed on Congressional bickering – that damn Congress can’t get its act together again! — rather than on the notion that one party wants to extend this lifeline, and the other doesn’t.

The truth is that Dems are wary of entering into talks over paying for the extension right now because they believe it would be conceding too much up front. Given current economic conditions, Dems will almost certainly push for a longer-term extension later than the current three-month one that is on the table, so agreeing right now that any extension must be paid for would make it even harder to win agreement on the longer-term one, which would of course require a bigger “pay for.” That’s why White House economic adviser Gene Sperling insisted yesterday that any extension must be done with “no strings attached.”

But it’s unclear to me whether Dems will stick to that position. The fact that Republicans are signaling an openness to a paid-for extension likely means that, if the measure does go down to defeat, serious negotiations will then begin over how to extend it while paying for it. Of course, at that point, the question would become whether there is any pay-for Dems can accept that can get Republicans to actually agree to an extension.

* IS GOP OPPOSITION TO UI EXTENSION ABOUT “ECONOMIC SABOTAGE”? Brian Beutler makes the case:

Unemployment benefits make people’s lives better and buoy a fragile, but possibly accelerating recovery. Some Republicans are apparently reluctant to give Democrats and the economy a shot in the arm right now. This has been the motif of the past five years. But it hasn’t always defined every Republican. It’s possible that the Reed/Heller bill will clear the Senate. If it fails, though, or passes today then stalls in the House, I’d question the sincerity of Republicans who claim any kind of principle was at stake.

It will be interesting to see how Republicans handle negotiations over how to pay for the extension, presuming they take place.

* HOUSE GOP PLANS DO-NOTHING AGENDA: The New York Times reports that House Republicans’ main aim for 2014 is to avoid doing anything too ambitious that might jeopardize what they see as their political advantage heading into the midterms, partly because of the health law’s rollout:

Expectations for the session are so low that lawmakers say early action on White House priorities like raising the minimum wage, restoring unemployment benefits that expired and overhauling immigration laws are likely to go nowhere. Instead, Congress is likely to focus on more prosaic tasks: finishing negotiations on a farm bill that has languished for two years, agreeing on a law authorizing water projects, passing a spending bill for the current fiscal year and raising the debt ceiling by March. Only then might lawmakers move on to modest, piecemeal immigration measures.

In one sense, the Republicans’ unshakable conviction that the health law can only pay huge political dividends for them is a plus: it means they’ll try harder to avoid a debt ceiling hostage crisis that would get in the way of their certain political windfall.

* DEMS TO RUN ON ECONOMIC THEMES IN 2014: Also from the above Times story: Dems say they will counter the GOP’s do-nothing posture by aggressively highlighting Republicans’ opposition to extending unemployment insurance and raising the minimum wage, as well as a full court press drawing attention to stories of people’s lives being improved by the Affordable Care Act. DCCC chair Steve Israel:

“One of the reasons the economy isn’t as strong as it should be is the Republicans’ avowed economic theory is to do nothing, and we intend to make that a central theme for 2014.”

Of course, most House Republicans will shrug at this stuff, since they are cossetted away in safe districts. But Dem pollsters do think that if the economy keeps improving, it could help neutralize the negative impacts of the health law on Dem candidates, a dynamic worth watching for in Senate races in particular.

* PUBLIC SUPPORTS ACTION ON UNEMPLOYED AND MINIMUM WAGE: Related to the above: E.J. Dionne makes a key point, noting that there is broad public consensus on core safety net issues:

On core questions involving social justice, we are far more united than our politics permit us to be. A survey released at the end of December by Hart Research, a Democratic polling firm, found that Americans supported extending unemployment insurance by a margin of 55 percent to 34 percent. Several recent surveys, including a Fox News poll, found that about two-thirds of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage…most Americans broadly accept the New Deal consensus.

I’d add that there is also broad public consensus behind immigration reform, but this is also being obscured by the fact that GOP leaders are (so far, anyway) letting the right set the party’s agenda on the issue — just as on UI and the minimum wage.

* REPUBLICANS CONVINCED OBAMACARE IS CERTAIN WINNER: David Drucker talks to a range of GOP consultants and finds that they are absolutely, completely, 100 percent certain that Obamacare can only shower them with political riches through the 2014 elections and beyond. Dems may well lose seats in 2014, possibly because of Obamacare; the question is how many in the Senate. But what remains puzzling is the refusal by most Republicans to even wonder whether the GOP repeal stance could also prove problematic over the long term.

* REPUBLICANS OPEN FIRE ON “WAR ON POVERTY”: With the “War on Poverty” turning 50 years old, Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan are casting it as a failure. Michael Tomasky smartly notes that this is all about setting the stage for the coming battle over Dem efforts to combat inequality, and urges Dems not to be afraid to declare the last War on Poverty mostly a success.

By the way, take a look at Rubio’s new Web video making the case the War on Poverty failed. Note the call to repeal Obamacare and replace it with — naturally — some alternative in the future that remains unspecified.

* AND ANOTHER ANTI-OBAMACARE TALKING POINT DEBUNKED: Glenn Kessler takes apart the latest GOP talking point: That more people have lost health coverage under Obamacare than have gained.  As Kessler notes, such claims frequently rest on two key dodges: First, the airbrushing the millions newly eligible for Medicaid out of the picture; and second, downplaying the fact that many who lost plans have had them replaced, possibly by better ones.

Also, Kessler makes a point that can’t be emphasized enough: only time will really give us a clear picture of the winners and losers under the law.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.