Thursday morning, House Democrats held a deeply emotional hearing featuring several long-term unemployed Americans who pleaded with Congress to extend the expiring federal Emergency Unemployment Insurance program, which provides benefits to jobless Americans after their state benefits run out. (It’s really worth a watch, to see the emotional pain that comes with being unemployed.)
The program has been extended or modified eleven times since it was created in 2008 as the economy cratered, but is set to expire at the end of 2013—meaning 2.15 million long-term unemployed would lose benefits entirely.
The looming House-Senate budget negotiations have been viewed as the best vehicle to extend the EUC program—and Thursday’s hearing ended with some dramatic news from House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. She made it clear that Democrats couldn’t support any agreement that didn’t have an EUC extension, either in the actual budget or as a separate piece of legislation.
Addressing the long-term jobless who testified, Pelosi said:
"Yes, indeed, we are making a very clear statement that we cannot, cannot support a budget agreement that does not include unemployment insurance in the budget or as a sidebar in order to move it all along.It would undermine who we are as a country, [and] most importantly, it would strike at the heart of what you bring to America. Everything you have said is about the middle class—the backbone of our democracy."
Meanwhile, a senior Democratic Senate aide close to the budget negotiations confirmed to The Nation that a EUC extension is still very much in the mix. Senator Murray, who is leading the negotiations for Democrats, “continues to push for this and it remains an open item as the negotiations continue.”
Details of a possible agreement have been leaking out in recent days, though there is no mention of the EUC program either way. The agreement is sure to be fragile, however, given the spending levels and federal pension changes rumored to be included—meaning that every last vote will be crucial in the House. That’s what makes Pelosi’s pledge so notable.
Additionally on Thursday morning, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters he would be “willing to take a look” at a long-term unemployment insurance extension.
The White House, too, is pushing for an extension—President Obama plugged it in his major economic address Wednesday, and on Thursday the White House issued a report detailing how many long-term jobless in each state would lose benefits.
President Obama recently called inequality the "defining challenge of our time."