So. Looks like that’s it.
Not one, but two bills to extend federal unemployment benefits failed in the Senate on Tuesday.
Sorry that it’s been more than six months since you were laid off and you still can’t find a job. The government ain’t gonna help you, fellas. You lose!
Congress is proving to be no better than an unruly bunch of fractious children. I am reminded of siblings who are instructed to decide among themselves whether the day’s outing will be to the swimming pool or to the park. The brothers and sisters squabble among themselves and are unable to come to an agreement, so the parent announces that the matter is now closed because everyone will be staying home.
There was the bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for eleven months. That went down in flames because many Republican senators believe that such a “gimme” would reward indolence. Why look for a job when you can sit in front of the TV and have a paycheck dropped in your mailbox every other week, as if by magic?
Then there was the other, much stingier bill that would have extended unemployment benefits for three months only. The idea was to help out-of-work Americans put food on the table for another twelve weeks or so while our elected representatives hash out a long-term solution regarding unemployment benefits. But, hey, the Senate couldn’t manage to pass this one either!
Technically, there was no vote to accept or reject either bill. Both measures became stuck in the muck that is the Senate’s procedural rules. Senators voted to open debate on the bills early last week, so the next step is to close debate in preparation for a vote. The 11-month bill failed 48-52; the 3-month bill failed 45-55.
So yes, both bills remain open for debate and there is always a possibility, albeit a slight one, that warring factions among the two parties might come to some agreement after they return from their eleven-day break.
One could say that it what it came down to was hurt feelings. In recent days, Republican senators have been throwing the yellow hanky, insisting that the bad ol’ Democratic majority is trying to railroad them. And they’re not going to put up with that, by golly! The Republicans may have a handful fewer members than their Democrat brethren across the aisle, but they will not be underdogs! They will show their muscle!
So, what was giving the Republicans such an ouchy tummy ache? Amendments, that’s what.
At first, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his posse wouldn’t allow any amendments to the bill. I mean, what the heck? You can’t expect Republican senators to help tide over unemployed Americans unless they get a little pork tacked on to the end of it. Right?
Then the Democrats conceded by agreeing, okay, each party can have five amendments added to the bill. But each amendment could be passed only with the yea votes of at least 60 senators. Republicans cried foul, citing Democratic demands that the Senate agree to pass the final bill by a simple majority (51 votes), waiving the traditional 60-vote requirement. Republicans felt disenfranchised, alleging that this finagling would enable Senate Democrats to defeat all Republican-sponsored amendments while pushing through the bill to passage on the Democrat’s terms.
Do I blame the Republicans for crying big elephant tears? Not really. Do I blame the Democrats for being stubborn donkeys? Not at all. I mean, what do you want? Everyone must get theirs, right?
Except for the long-term unemployed, apparently. They get exactly zero.
Congratulations, Congress. You blew it again.
Oh, and enjoy your eleven-day vacation!
Kane, Paul, “Senate Deadlocks on Extending Jobless Benefits,” Washington Post (Post Politics, January 14, 2014). http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/01/14/senate-deadlocks-on-extending-jobless-benefits/
Mascaro, Lisa, “Spending Bill is On Track but Jobless Benefits Stall in Congress, Los Angeles Times (Nation, January 14, 2014). http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-congress-budget-20140115,0,3426233.story#axzz2qRghMq6u
Parker, Ashley, “Unemployment Extension is Stalled, with Two Proposals Defeated in the Senate,” New York Times (January 14, 2014). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/15/us/politics/unemployment-benefits-extension-fails-in-senate.html?_r=0