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Fed chair, unemployment on tap as Congress returns

WASHINGTON — Back to work on Monday, Congress faces a hefty list of unfinished business and a politically driven agenda in an election year that will determine control of the House and Senate.

President Barack Obama’s nomination of Janet Yellen to head the Federal Reserve and a three-month extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed are first up in Senate, with votes scheduled Monday night. The rare burst of bipartisanship last month produced a budget agreement, but lawmakers were unable to agree on extending federal benefits for an estimated 1.3 million Americans.

The payments stopped on Dec. 28 and Democrats, led by Obama, are pushing hard to revive them. The issue is vital to the party’s core voters who are crucial in low-turnout, midterm elections, and Democrats left no doubt that they will use any Republican opposition as a political cudgel.

“Dealing with declining middle-class incomes and not enough job growth will be the No. 1 issue,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “And if on the first day of the new session, the Republican Party says they won’t even support unemployment benefit extension, the original round was started by George Bush when unemployment was 5.6 percent, they’re going to show themselves so far out of the mainstream, it’s going to hurt them in the election.”

Republicans hinted they might go along with extending benefits if Democrats come up with cuts elsewhere or make other concessions.

“I would like to find a way to get a compromise to extend unemployment insurance, at least for a brief period of time, but at the same time, the Democrats should make compromises,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.