Congressional lawmakers and President Barack Obama resume work this week, and the battle over renewing long-term unemployment benefits for 1.3 million Americans is just one of the issues set to take center stage at the start of the new year.
The Senate begins its session this afternoon, and the House will head to work Tuesday. The Senate is expected to vote later tonight on a measure, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Jack Reed (D-RI), that would renew unemployment insurance benefits, which expired in December, for three months. The measure would need 60 votes to get through procedural roadblocks that could be put up by Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio, 8) maintains that he would take up an unemployment benefit extension bill in the House on the condition that the measure includes a source of funding that would pay for it.
On Tuesday, the president is set to rally around the issue by hosting a gathering at the White House with unemployed individuals who saw their benefits expire recently. The organization that led Obama’s re-election campaign, Organizing For Action (OFA), is expected to hold events in 30 cities on Tuesday, calling on Republicans to take action on the unemployment insurance extension.
"For decades, Republicans and Democrats put partisanship and ideology aside to offer some security for job-seekers, even when the unemployment rate was lower than it is today," Obama said in remarks during his weekly radio address on Saturday. "Instead of punishing families who can least afford it, Republicans should make it their New Year's resolution to do the right thing and restore this vital economic security for their constituents right now."
In addition to extending unemployment benefits, the White House will also focus on issues involving income inequality and bumping up the federal minimum wage, Politico reported.
On Sunday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said it's time for lawmakers to move past the Obamacare debate and focus on other issues in 2014, including extending unemployment benefits.
“If Republicans block this renewal, I think that it will have an effect and hurt their chances in the 2014 elections,” Schumer said. “For the first five years of President Obama’s term, the two biggest issues were the deficit and Obamacare, but not anymore.”
Meanwhile, the president is expected to make decisions regarding National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs following more than 40 recommendations from a panel of intelligence and legal experts. Obama, who has said he is “open to many” of the suggestions, is expected to make decisions regarding the panel's NSA report sometime before he delivers his State of the Union address on January 28.
Also later today, the Senate is set to vote on Janet Yellen's nomination as the next chair of the Federal Reserve.