But that may not be as bad as it sounds. The impact of the benefit cutoff will be limited, so long as lawmakers quickly fix the problem when they return next month. The same holds true for a lapse in authorization for generous health subsidies for the unemployed and for a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
Dropping the ball on jobless benefits doesn't put Congress in a flattering light. But unlike an episode three weeks ago, when Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning held up a nearly identical measure over deficit concerns, Democrats don't seem poised to reap political gain from this round of GOP obstruction.
The impasse means thousands of people will begin to lose jobless benefits when a current extension of unemployment insurance expires on April 5. In addition, a 65 percent subsidy for health insurance benefits for the unemployed under the COBRA program expires Wednesday.
The expiration of unemployment insurance means that people who have been out of a job for more than six months will gradually lose eligibility for additional weeks of benefits that are fully financed by the federal government. The first six months of unemployment benefits would not be affected, since they are the responsibility of the states.
But someone whose six-month state benefits are running out after April 5 won't be eligible for a new 20-week "tier" of federally financed benefits so long as the program has lapsed. A person already receiving such benefits won't see them run out until they apply for additional weeks.
That means perhaps one in 50 of the 11 million people now receiving unemployment checks would be affected in the first week of the benefits expiration, according to the National Employment Law Project. Almost 1 million people would see their benefits exhausted by the end of April.
The Democrats in control of Congress promise that any lost benefits will be made up for, so even the relatively few jobless people who may miss checks should eventually get their money, though they could face bureaucratic hassles.