Democrats have mounted an intense push to spend $6.4 billion to extend long-term unemployment benefits for three months, but conservatives are pushing back, questioning how it will be paid for and its economic usefulness.
Tuesday morning, Senate Democrats scored a small victory, aided by six Republicans, with a 60-37 vote that limits debate on the issue, clearing the way to approve the extension with a simple majority. A full vote on the issue may come later this week.
The issue is dividing moderate and conservative Republicans, with conservatives questioning how paying people not to work can help the economy.
Immediately after the Senate vote, President Barack Obama appeared on TV with a group of long-term unemployed standing behind him as props. Obama said that Congress voting to extend the benefits would give the long-term unemployed "hope," and create jobs.
Conservative thought leaders immediately criticized Obama and the Democrats' push with KTTH host Michael Medved leading off his Tuesday show criticizing the scheme.
"How is it that unemployment benefits is a way to give people hope?" Medved asked. "And how does voting for unemployment insurance create jobs?
"This is so incredibly bizarre."
Rush Limbaugh wondered why, if the Obama economic recovery is going so well, the country needs another economic stimulus.
"In the midst of all of this economic growth, the most important thing is avoiding another government shutdown and extending unemployment benefits?" Limbaugh said. "The president said that unemployment benefits actually create new jobs. Now stop and think about that for a second. Unemployment benefits create new jobs?"
Limbaugh also wondered whether the sudden push to extend the benefits, which expired Dec. 28, is just a way to get Obamacare out of the spotlight.
David Boze highlighted that unemployment insurance is supposed to be limited, warning that extending the benefits would just encourage unemployment.
"It wasn't supposed to be a permanent kind of subsidy," he said. "The more you pay for something, the more you're going to get."
KTTH host Ben Shapiro said that the Tuesday Senate vote was "absurd" and demonstrated the "ethical and political bankruptcy of a certain wing of the Republican party."
Speaking on the floor of the Senate Tuesday morning, U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, said, "An unemployment extension bill is treating the symptoms of the problem. It's an aspirin for a fever but the fever has been raging for weeks now. Something is causing and we need to deal with the cause of it rather than continuing to treat the symptoms."
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said, "It is transparent that this is a political exercise, not a real effort try to fix the problem."
Writing on FoxNews.com, University of Maryland business professor Peter Morici said that reinstating the unemployment benefits would slow economic growth, and become another entitlement program.
"By raising the cost to employers of hiring low wage workers, higher payroll tax to finance benefits discourage employers from adding new jobs - especially in depressed areas," Morici wrote. "And extended benefits discourages workers from moving from high unemployment locations...to more rapidly growing states."
Meanwhile, Democratic Washington Sen. Patty Murray, fresh off her bipartisan budget deal with U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., took to the Senate floor to advocate for the extension. She urged that compromise "isn't a dirty word" and that Congress has to make political sacrifices to get work done.
"And as much as we are heartened by headlines that predict a strong economy this year, we understand how fragile our economy still is, with millions of American still out of work," Murray said. "Because the truth is that all the economic predictions in the world mean nothing if we don't continue to support policies that help our middle class. And that work absolutely starts with extending unemployment."
Aside from using the media to pressure Republicans, Democrats are resorting to bully tactics. It seems they are prepared to label any Republican who pushes back as "uncaring" toward the unemployed.
Some on the right are taking the opposite stance from conservatives. Six Senate Republicans voted with Democrats on Tuesday including Sens. Dan Coats, R-Indiana; Dean Heller, R-Nevada; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire; Rob Portman, R-Ohio; and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Those Republicans are insisting that the government offset the cost of funding the three-month unemployment extension.
Conservative thought leader Charles Krauthammer, appearing on Fox News in advance of Tuesday's vote, said that the benefits do not qualify as an entitlement.
"It shouldn't be about whether it increases the deficit or not. It's a fairly small amount of money and that's not the core issue," Krauthammer said appearing on Fox News. "The core issue is creating an entitlement."
Sen. Heller, who is co-sponsoring legislation to extend benefits with Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, has been vocal about his support for extending the benefits.
"Helping those in need should not be a partisan issue. Providing a limited social net is one of the responsibilities of the federal government," he said. "Unfortunately, instead of planning ahead and figuring the best way to do that, we are now forced to decide whether or not to reinstate these benefits after they have expired."
But even if legislation passes in the Senate, the consensus seems to be that it will die in the Republican-controlled House.
House Speaker John Boehner said that he would not consider passing legislation unless it was fully paid for. Boehner would also want passage of the extension to be tied to other Republican efforts, like approving the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, and expanding exemptions to Obamacare.
"One month ago, I personally told the White House that another extension of temporary emergency unemployment benefits should not only be paid for but include something to help put people back to work," Boehner said.