Congress is unlikely to agree to extend jobless benefits for two million unemployed workers by the time the program begins to lapse in two weeks, as lawmakers struggle with a packed lame-duck session and voter antipathy toward government spending.

But cutting off benefits could drag on a fragile economic recovery by reducing consumer spending, economists say, and Democrats are looking for a compromise that could put the program back on track before Christmas.

The program, which provides aid for up to 99 weeks after workers are laid off, has been extended seven times during the economic downturn. Last summer when Congress extended it, the battle was so pitched that benefits lapsed for over a month.

The larger dynamic is practically Dickensian — Republicans are fighting tooth and nail for $700 billion in tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the country, but they’re very likely to kill extended unemployment benefits for those struggling to find work in a weak economy.

Raising taxes on the rich under these circumstances is considered madness. Leaving jobless Americans with no benefits and no buying power under these circumstances is considered responsible.

Also keep in mind, we’re talking about a lot of people who are already struggling.

A separate state-federal program, currently 100% federally funded, offered another 13 to 20 weeks of benefits to workers in high unemployment states. Some 800,000 workers in those programs would be quickly cut off.

Another 1.2 million jobless Americans would stop receiving benefits by the end of December. Some of those workers would exhaust state benefits and be unable to access the federal program. The majority that is already receiving federal emergency extended benefits would gradually lose them.

For Republicans, who’ve suggested that those struggling to find work in the midst of a jobs crisis are lazy and quite possibly drug addicts, this just isn’t cause for concern. On the contrary, they’re so opposed to helping the jobless, they’ll filibuster any effort to extend benefits — if Congress were allowed to vote up or down, the benefits would pass.

At this point, you might be thinking, “But wait, won’t this be awful for the economy? If more than 1.2 million people lose their benefits, which they invariably spend, won’t this mean hardship for those families compounded by less economic activity for everyone else?”

And if that is what you’re thinking, you probably aren’t going to enjoy the next Congress very much.

I know the right gets hysterical whenever facts like these are brought up, but unemployment benefits are extremely stimulative — every dollar spent on aid for the jobless results in about two dollars spent in the economy. Tax cuts for millionaires, meanwhile, aren’t stimulative at all.

It’s almost as if Republicans are deliberately trying to undermine the economy. That couldn’t be, could it?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.