“Our Republican colleagues should take note. Certainly we’re going to build on the progress we’ve made to reduce the deficit, but it is no longer the most important issue that we face,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in laying out Senate Democrats’ agenda for the coming year. “Issues like job creation, minimum wage, and unemployment insurance are going to weigh on the minds of voters far more than Obamacare by the time the 2014 elections roll around.”
For their part, congressional Republicans sound open to an extension of unemployment benefits but only if the $6.5 billion cost of a three-month extension is paid for — a nuanced argument that Democrats hope won’t sound convincing at a time when the number of long-term unemployed is on the uptick. And no matter what Democrats argue, Republicans will seek to keep voters’ focus on Obamacare.
For now, reviving emergency unemployment insurance may have more legislative legs than a federal minimum wage increase, given that the three-month extension has the support of Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a key development for a bill that will need the support of four more Republicans to break a filibuster.
The lead sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), said he hopes other Republicans from high unemployment states will come around when they “begin to recognize these are real constituents in their home state that have worked very hard.”