The issue got trickier for Republicans this year when jobs numbers released by the government showed anemic growth in December, bolstering the Democrats' stance.

"It's quite out of the ordinary to cut off these benefits in such a weak labor market," said Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University economist who has studied unemployment benefits.

But Alex Brill, a research fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, argues that the government has extended unemployment benefits for so long that the program has turned into a short-term welfare program. He says the government needs to try something new, like helping people relocate to places that have more jobs.

Meyer would be willing to move from his home on a cul-de-sac that he thought he'd never leave. He's applied for jobs in Toronto and Vermont. He's commuted into New York City, an hour and a half away by train, for job interviews. He's been a finalist for two jobs, but both times came away empty-handed.

"You live it; you breathe it," Meyer said. "You can't escape unemployment — the fear that hangs over your head that everything's going to go away."

The unemployed present a problem for Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who can ignore neither his party's stance on benefits nor the needs of 260,000 of his constituents who will lose federal unemployment checks by the end of this year.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker last week embarked on an 11-stop tour of the state, meeting with the long-term unemployed. Christie has so far remained silent on the issue of extending federal aid.

Morris Murray, who directs Newark's One-Stop Career Center, where people come to look for jobs, says he's seen white-collar professionals go on general assistance — $140 or so a month — once their benefits ran out because they couldn't find work.

The worst for Meyer is the feeling that he can't support his 12-year-old daughter and his wife, who has fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that prevents her from working. He hates that his daughter has to field calls from Wells Fargo, and that every call he makes is interrupted by call-waiting beeps from some of the 20 robocalls a day he gets from creditors.

A little while back, his daughter was asked to write an essay about an important event in her life, and she wrote about the day he came home and told the family he'd been laid off.

"It pains me," he said, "to think that's at the top of her mind."