WASHINGTON--Congress recessed for a week-long break no closer to reinstating expired jobless benefits for the 1.3 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more.
The impasse is unlikely to be resolved prior to President Obama's Jan. 28 State of the Union address, where he is likely to promote new efforts to close the gap on income inequality and call on Congress reinstate unemployment benefits.
"We're not at all giving up," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, "We're going to keep working, and we're going to keep pressing, and I know that (Senate Majority Leader Harry) Reid is doing the same."
Senate Democrats and Republicans are at odds over how to reinstate the jobless benefits, and Reid said he would revisit the issue after the recess.
An offer by Democrats to fund the program through November was rejected by Republicans because it used budget cuts that wouldn't take effect until 2024 to pay for it. Republicans are rankled by what they say is a heavy-handed majority that will not allow the minority to offer amendments to alter the program or create other ways to pay for it.
While the majority of Republicans oppose the extension under any circumstances, a handful of Republicans necessary to overcome procedural hurdles are generally supportive of an extension, which means an agreement is possible.
"I have a number of members who feel the unemployment insurance issue is a serious matter that ought to be addressed, but addressed in a fair and bipartisan way, with the majority in the end deciding what kind of bill passes," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Republicans accused Democrats of playing election year politics, arguing they are more eager to score points than reach a deal to reinstate the program because the impasse is helping fuel part of their midterm election year message that Democrats are more sympathetic to the jobless and working poor.
"You see a mentality among the Republicans and their leadership that basically says when people are down and out and need a helping hand, we're not going to give it to them because they're lazy, and the only way to get them up off the couch and away from the television and off to work is to stop sending unemployment checks," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
Reid said he believes Republicans are holding the extension hostage out of lingering hard feelings over a recent rules change pushed through by Democrats that makes it easier to confirm certain judicial and executive nominations. "This is a filibuster," he said, adding that Republicans were delaying "because I was mean to them."
The GOP-controlled House has largely stayed out of the debate over long-term jobless benefits. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said that the House will look at any extension that comes out of the Senate, but the chamber is not working on legislation of its own.
The debate over unemployment benefits is just the beginning of a year-long messaging effort and legislative push by the president and congressional Democrats on economic issues and income inequality. Democrats are on track this year to push for an increase in the minimum wage, which is popular among Americans but has strong opposition among GOP lawmakers because they say it could stifle already fragile job growth.
House Republicans counter that they have approved legislation they say would spur job growth, but Senate Democrats have ignored their bills. "The best way to help out-of-work Americans is to create jobs and grow our economy. That's exactly what Republicans are focused on, creating jobs for middle-class families and small businesses," Boehner said.