Near the top of the to-do list for the lame-duck Congress is whether to extend jobless benefits for two million Americans who are relying on the payments to get them through until they find a job.
Recent talk is that lawmakers would be willing to extend benefits for the fifth time this year before they expire Nov. 30. Advocates for extended benefits include groups representing the so-called 99ers, who run out of benefits after 99 weeks.
But Republicans, who trounced the Democrats in midterm elections partly on the idea that America has been spending too much, say that the deficit is already too large and that even jobless benefits should be on the table for discussion.
Into the debate drops a number from CNNMoney.com, which reported Wednesday that Americans have collected jobless benefits totaling $319 billion over the past three years. CNNMoney’s article says the federal government has already paid $109 billion of that.
Businesses are likely to end up paying for much of the remainder, including whatever gets added if Congress agrees to extend the benefits, CNNMoney says.
High unemployment, currently at 9.6 percent officially, has forced states, which typically fund jobless benefits, to ask the federal government for help. States are in dire straits: 31 of them now have $41 billion in loans outstanding, according to CNNMoney.
With employers on the hook for replenishing the money that funds jobless benefits, taxes on businesses are expected to rise to $64 billion in 2015 from $38 billion last year, according to the Labor Department.
With that kind of money on the line, businesses small and large will likely prove to be strong allies for lawmakers who either want to stop extending benefits or to find cost cuts elsewhere to make up the difference.