Barney Frank: Unemployment Benefits Not A Concession

WASHINGTON -- A senior House Democrat suggested Thursday that Congress could have reauthorized extended unemployment benefits even if President Obama hadn't cut a deal with Republicans to attach 13 months of jobless aid to two years of tax cuts for the rich.

"It's totally unbalanced. I think unemployment shouldn't be considered a concession they give to us," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) told HuffPost after Democrats symbolically rejected the tax deal. "I think we should have kept fighting them on it."

Senate Democrats fell seven votes short on Saturday of the 60 needed to break a filibuster and reauthorize jobless aid along with middle-class tax cuts. The Saturday vote set the stage for the White House to strike its deal with Republicans on Monday. Without such a deal, the thinking went, there was no way to get around Republicans and conservative Democrats who would filibuster unemployment if its $60 billion cost wasn't offset with spending cuts.

Frank reminded HuffPost of how it was when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) blocked a renewal of jobless aid in February. The media treated it as an outrage, and members of his own party begged Bunning to stop. Gradually, though, his insistence on "paying for" federally-funded benefits became a mainstream GOP position. Frank said Democrats should have made an effort to have that fight again.

"I don't know what the end would have been but I don't think we tried hard enough to make it clear that they were the ones obstructing," he said. "I think we should have had that debate for a couple weeks."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Wednesday that Republicans would have allowed a short reauthorization even without the tax cut deal.

Two programs called Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits lapsed last week because Congress has not reauthorized them. The programs provide up to 73 weeks of benefits for people who exhaust 26 weeks of state benefits. If they aren't restored, two million long-term unemployed will prematurely stop receiving benefits before the end of the month. Already 800,000 people have received cutoff notices.