A political fight on Capitol Hill becomes very real today for about 1.3 million Americans: Their long-term unemployment benefits expire. In the latest budget deal, lawmakers didn't extend the 5-year-old federal emergency program that provides an average of $300 a month to people who have used up their standard 26 weeks, reports the Wall Street Journal. Expect it to be at the top of Congress' agenda in 2014, reports the Hill, with Democrats pressing to restore the benefits, perhaps retroactively. Doing so for the full year would cost about $25 billion.
Republicans and libertarians generally argue that the extension was necessary during the worst of the recession, but no more. "This is an emergency program," says a budget analyst with the Cato Institute think tank. "The emergency has long been over." The benefits "induce people to wait to start searching for a job, and that ends up kind of hurting them," he says. Democrats counter that the benefits not only provide vital cash to recipients—Nancy Pelosi called the failure to extend them "immoral" yesterday—but boosts the overall economy by helping people who would otherwise have no money to spend do so. Prospects for an extension are murky given the "constrained fiscal environment," reports the New York Times. One scenario is that Republicans agree to a 3-month extension if Democrats offset the money with cuts elsewhere.