Senate Democrats have not figured out a way to get around Republican opposition to reauthorizing extended unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless.
"We are still in the process of trying to establish the schedule of the lame duck session, in terms of the remaining days of the session, so no specifics, but think we all understand that this is something that is going to have to be done," said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.
The benefits are set to expire at the end of the month, jeopardizing a lifeline for two million people during the holidays. But it's not likely the benefits will be reauthorized before they lapse, since Congress will go home for Thanksgiving next week, meaning this week is the last chance to prevent an interruption in benefits. Reed said there is no plan for a vote.
"At this point it's not been scheduled," he said. "We're trying to make a case that there be action but at this point I can't point to a specific time it will come up for a vote this week."
Extended unemployment insurance is federally-funded and gives the long-term unemployed up to 73 weeks of payments after they finish 26 weeks of state benefits. Previous reauthorizations have been held up because Republicans and conservative Democrats don't want the cost of the benefits added to the deficit, even though extended benefits have traditionally been given "emergency" status and financed with deficit spending. (A full-year reauthorization might cost $65 billion, according to the Economic Policy Institute). Democrats have been highlighting the fact that the people insisting on offsets for unemployment benefits are not insisting on offsets for tax cuts for the rich.
"On the one hand they want to provide $700 billion in tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans but not pay for them. And on the other hand they're demanding that UI benefits for the middle class be paid for," Reed said. "That's a little like someone on a diet who orders a Diet Coke and a Big Mac simultaneously."
Starting Dec. 1, people who exhaust state benefits or one of the four "tiers" of Emergency Unemployment Compensation will be ineligible for another tier or for Extended Benefits. HuffPost readers: Are you in this boat? Tell us about it -- email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pat McNamara, 61, said she lost her job with the Philadelphia mayor's office in August 2009. She's been unable to find work. "I am not proud. I have applied for everything from administrative positions to temp jobs, even customer service jobs paying $7.50 an hour with no benefits," she said. "It's going to be tough when federal unemployment benefits end. I have no other source of income."
Reed and Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) said they didn't know whether Democrats would attempt a deal to attach the benefits to the tax cuts, but both said they wanted the benefits reauthorized for a full year. Democrats will need at least a handful of Republicans, but moderates who previously crossed the aisle for the unemployed have not signaled they will do so this time. Reed said Senate Democrats are focused for now on reauthorizing current benefits and not giving additional weeks to people who have already exhausted their federal benefits.
On Wednesday the National Employment Law Project delivered a petition with 100,000 signatures to Casey's office calling on the Senate to reauthorize the benefits.
The previous lapse lasted for 50 days, interrupting benefits for 2.5 million people. Those folks were eventually given retroactive lump-sum payments.
UPDATE: House Democrats have introduced a bill to reauthorize extended benefits for another three months, through February.