Economic inequality, unemployment top Democrats’ agenda as Congress returns

BY Terence Burlij  January 6, 2014 at 9:20 AM EST


A line of applicants snaked around the building at recent job fair hosted by Tanger Outlets in Fort Washington, MD. Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress have signalled that they intend to make income inequality a defining issue of 2014, and they are not wasting any time in beginning to make their case.

The first issue on the agenda Monday when the Senate returns is an extension of unemployment insurance benefits, which expired in late December.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called on GOP lawmakers to join with his members to help clear the 60-vote threshold required to move forward with the measure. The Morning Line

“It would seem to me that five Republicans in the Senate should agree with the Republicans around the country,” Reid said Sunday during an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “Republicans around America want us to do something to extend these benefits. Why? Because it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the country.”

The legislation, sponsored by Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., would extend benefits for three months for some 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans. The president endorsed the proposal in his weekly address on Saturday, and also sought to ramp up the pressure on Republican lawmakers.

“We don’t abandon our fellow Americans when times get tough – we keep the faith with them until they start that new job,” Mr. Obama said.

The president also plans to hold an event Tuesday at the White House where he will be joined by people who have lost their unemployment benefits.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said he would be open to extending unemployment benefits, so long as the cost is offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Other Republicans, such as Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, said GOP lawmakers should also push for additional provisions that would spur job creation.

“What I have always said is that it needs to be paid for, but we also need to do something for long-term unemployed people and that is we need to create something new that would create jobs,” Paul said during an appearance Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “So what I’d like to do when we get back is one, if we extend it we pay for it, but two, we add something to it that would create jobs.”

Democrats, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, are warning Republicans that if they block an extension of unemployment benefits, it could come back to haunt them in this year’s midterm elections.

“This year, dealing with declining middle class incomes and not enough job growth will be the number one issue. And if, on the first day of the new session, the Republican Party says they won’t even support an unemployment benefit extension … they’re going to show themselves so far out of the mainstream, it’s going to hurt them in the election,” Schumer said Sunday on ABC.

The Washington Post published a set of maps showing how many people, state-by-state, and even county-by-county, are affected by the loss of long-term unemployment benefits.

For Democrats, extending unemployment benefits is just one piece of the income inequality strategy, with some in the party also calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. While the president has said he backs the initiative, many Republicans are opposed, contending it would result in fewer jobs.

In fact, Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times writes that Republicans on Capitol Hill have scaled back their agenda for 2014, to avoid any trouble ahead of the midterm elections.

Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader, is quietly playing down expectations for any major legislative achievements in the final year of the 113th Congress, which passed fewer laws in its first year — 65 — than any single session on record. The calendar, drawn up to maximize campaign time ahead of midterm elections in November, is bare bones, with the House in session just 97 days before Election Day, the last on Oct. 2, and 112 days in all.

In 2013, the House was in session 118 days before November and 135 in all.

The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Scott Wilson, meanwhile, take a look at the president’s game plan as 2014 gets underway, and note that turning around public opinion on the health care law will be a main focus:

With millions of Americans receiving health-care coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Obama will try to shift the public’s attention from the disastrous rollout of the HealthCare.gov Web site to the real-life benefits of the law. Obama plans to do some outside-the-Beltway travel in the weeks ahead to showcase successes, according to administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s plans.

If the president is unable to shed the problems with the health care law, then the rest of his agenda, including the push to address income inequality, will struggle to gain traction.

Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich had examined the big picture of the long-term unemployment issue in a segment Dec. 27 with anchor Hari Sreenivasan:

LINE ITEMS

  • CNN’s John King and Peter Hamby report that Liz Cheney is set to abandon her Senate bid in Wyoming, ending her GOP primary challenge against incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Enzi.

  • Days after stores in Colorado began to sell marijuana legally for recreational purposes, The New York Times reports New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign an executive action that allows the drug’s use for medical purposes. In other New York state news, Vice President Joe Biden plans to travel to Albany Tuesday for an appearance with Cuomo.

  • Maggie Haberman for Politico examines the many facets of Hillary Clinton’s supporters, donor groups, friends, aides and family as the former secretary of state considers a 2016 presidential campaign.

  • Boston sees the start of a new era in politics Monday as Tom Menino’s 20 years as mayor ends and Martin Walsh takes the oath of office.

  • Former First Lady Barbara Bush was discharged from a Houston hospital after being treated for pneumonia.

  • Rep. Trey Radel plans to return to Washington when the House of Representatives meets Tuesday after spending time in rehab following a cocaine charge.

  • The president’s delegation to Russia for the Sochi Winter Olympics this year will include three gay members: tennis player Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and hockey player Caitlin Cahow.

  • Three representatives said they would retire in time for the 2014 mid-term election. They are Tom Latham, R-Iowa, Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Frank Wolf, R-Va.

  • Democrats clinched all three statewide offices in Virginia’s 2013 election after Republican candidate Mark Obenshain conceded to Mark Herring in the attorney general race last month.

  • Vanity Fair Magazine called former President George W. Bush a “hipster icon.”

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • Mark Shields and David Brooks tackled populism, inequality and legalizing marijuana use on Friday in their weekly analysis.

  • Susan Page of USA Today and Jerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal looked at the challenges President Obama faces in 2014.

  • Anchor Gwen Ifill spoke with Double Down: Game Change 2012 authors Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

  • Anchor Judy Woodruff interviewed conservative Yuval Levin on how modern political divides and discourse date back to the 1700s.

  • Correspondent Jeffrey Brown spoke with New Yorker writer George Packer about the unraveling middle class and economic security he portrays in his book The Unwinding.

  • Mark Hugo Lopez of the Pew Research Center, Tamar Jacoby of ImmigrationWorks USA, Angela Maria Kelley of the Center for American Progress and Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies debated how Congress could change the immigration system in 2014.

  • Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal looks back at 2013 and into 2014 to round up the biggest cases of this year’s Supreme Court term.

  • 2013 was a rough year for the people running the federal government, so NewsHour Desk Assistant Bridget Bowman rounded up the 13 “unluckiest” moments in “Congress, the White House, and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad 2013.”

  • A leader at the Smithsonian Institute picked the 10 objects that best represent 2013.

  • Have you been paying attention to the tweets at the end of the Morning Line this year? Now you can test your knowledge with “Whose tweet is it anyway

  • And the NewsHour said goodbye to political editor and Morning Line swami Christina Bellantoni, who on her last day in our offices analyzed the 2014 congressional landscape on air.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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