This is Your Chance, Nancy Pelosi. Please Don’t Blow It.

From President Trump to my wife, there seem to be a lot of people around who have come to despise House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  Regardless of what you may think of her, however, I submit that her withholding of the articles of impeachment against President Trump is nothing less than a stroke of political genius.

Some ask why Pelosi didn’t send them to the Senate for trial immediately.  To put it bluntly, why should she?  By holding on to them, she has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  After all, the Constitution does not speak to timing.  Article 2, Section 4 merely provides that the president shall be removed upon impeachment and conviction.  It can happen any old time, or not at all.  There is no law prohibiting abandonment of the process following impeachment.  Or postponing a trial for an extended period of time, for that matter.
So why are the House Dems waiting?  Supposedly to establish rules of procedure in the Senate that assure a fair trial.  By that standard, I figured the Senate would be waiting a while.  But now it seems that the House might give in and bring over the articles of impeachment to the Senate after all.  Say it ain’t so, Nancy!
We have senators who openly confess that they have no intention of being fair and impartial jurors at the president’s trial.  In such an atmosphere, House reluctance to submit the articles of impeachment to what they view as a “kangaroo court” should come as no surprise.  Think of it:  The Senate, if it so chooses, can proceed without allowing any evidence to be submitted or any witnesses to testify.  The Senate gets to establish its own rules of engagement, which may be similar to those used at Bill Clinton’s trial, or not.  One thing is a virtual certainty:  With the president’s own party in the majority in the Senate, there is little incentive to adopt any rules that bear the potential to bring to light any evidence of the president’s commission of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  Party politics, not justice, appears to be the order of the day.
My father says that the bitterness between Republicans and Democrats, the acrimony that has wiped out artificial gentility and even a pretense of desire to achieve neutrality and fairness, has rendered our government into that of a third world country.  He may be on to something there. Why is it necessary for the Republican majority Senate to waste valuable time and resources in holding a trial when it already knows that the articles of impeachment are a sham and that the president is innocent of all charges?  Don’t bother with witnesses, evidence, or any of the trappings of modern justice.  Third world, indeed.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he is perfectly content with Pelosi holding onto the articles of impeachment because he’s not eager to hold a trial of the president in any event.  The Senate has plenty of other work to do without such distractions.
Pelosi and McConnell should shake hands and concede at least one point of rare bilateral agreement.  Then we can proceed with the presidential election and deprive Trump of the ability to gloat over an acquittal in the Senate.
McConnell has said that Pelosi and the House have the right to change their minds about the articles of impeachment.  Sure, he’s framing his argument in terms that make House Democrats look foolish.  I say let him do that.  Any way you look at it, it’s a win-win situation.  No dog and pony show, no show trial, no fait accompli acquittal, and no travesty of American justice.  The fact of the House’s impeachment should be enough.
Please, Nancy, don’t blow it.

Unemployment Extension Fails Again

Despite my recent raving and ranting about the misfeasance of the U.S. Senate in failing to pass federal unemployment extension benefits, I must admit that I’m beginning to find some logic in the reticence of our elected representatives.

Last month, a cloture vote (a decision to close debate and proceed to a vote on a bill) failed in the Senate on two different bills that would have provided unemployment checks to out-of-work Americans who had already run through their 26 weeks of state jobless benefits.  Both bills failed by just a handful of votes.

Which brings us to yesterday’s vote.  Now, remember that extending unemployment benefits is very popular among Americans, the people our senators are supposed to represent.  In that spirit, five Republicans were willing to break ranks with their caucus and vote “yea.”  Still not enough.  The bill failed by one vote.  One.  Vote.

It’s almost as if Republican senators are saying “the answer was no before, the answer is still no, the answer will always be no, stop asking!”

“Because of one person’s inaction today, there’s a family, thousands of families who are going to miss mortgage payments and send their lives into economic chaos,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was quoted as saying.  What a lovely sentiment, Senator, but let’s face it, the lives of the long-term unemployed are already steeped in turmoil and throwing us a bone for three months is unlikely to significantly alter that picture.

There are those who say there is still hope.  After all, with a vote that close, trying again is just too tempting for Senate Democrats to pass up.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is calling for at least one more Republican senator to “step up and do the right thing.”  As much as I appreciate the gesture, let’s not forget that Reid is an old man who is as out of touch with his constituency as are Senate Republicans.  (If you don’t believe me, take a listen to the sound bite in which, earlier this week, he claims to be unfamiliar with the term “couch surfing.”  Well, he’s a rich guy — why would he be?)

Senate Republicans claim that they’re standing their ground against fiscal irresponsibility in an age of huge federal deficits.  It would be more realistic to say that they’re trying to make a big, splashy point that they’re not about to allow the Democratic majority to run roughshod over them.  The bottom line, of course, is that they’re telling unemployed Americans to go to hell.  Cue The Silhouettes singing “Get a Job.”

So what are we talking about in terms of numbers?  Over a million of us lost our only source of income when extended federal unemployment benefits expired right after Christmas.  The bill that failed in the Senate this week would have cost $6.4 billion.  Had it passed, it would have provided another three months of unemployment benefits to 1.7 million Americans.

These are not the numbers of chief importance to Republicans in Congress, however.  They cite recent statistics such as the unemployment rate falling by one-tenth of a percentage point to 6.6% in January and the economy gaining 75,000 jobs in December.  The bigger picture is that these numbers are much worse than last year’s and fall far short of economists’ expectations.

Still, as I stated at the start of this post, I am starting to see Senate Republicans’ point of view.  Because none of the acrimony and bickering across the aisle really matters.  It’s all a big game of smoke and mirrors, and here’s why:

Number One:  Even if one more Republican Senator were to have pity on the unemployed and vote in favor of overcoming a filibuster, the chances of the bill actually passing a vote of the full Senate are not that great.  And even if the bill were to pass in the Senate, it doesn’t stand a prayer in John Boehner’s Republican-controlled House of Representatives.  No matter how you look at it, the unemployment extension is toast.

Number Two:  It’s just a Band-Aid, a very temporary measure that is not likely to have much long-term impact.  The latest Senate bill would have provided a maximum of three months of benefit checks to the long-term unemployed, most of whom are not going to be able to secure a job within that brief window.  Sure, every little bit helps, but ultimately it’s no different than when I give a burger and fries to the homeless guy with the sign.  Yes, it’s better than nothing, but tonight he’s just going to be hungry again.  In a nation as wealthy as the United States, surely we can do better than this.

If you read the comments posted on the news stories online, you will catch a lot of tomato-throwing by the “get off your lazy ass and get a job” contingent and the “I’m 60 years old and no one will hire me” technologic obsolescence crew.  The former decries the welfare state while the latter sheds tears in its beer about the slim likelihood of ever working again.  Then there is the increasing talk of job creation via direct government hiring, à la FDR’s New Deal.

Let’s be honest about this:  Most of us are going to sit at home sending out résumés and hoping to attract employer attention, whether we’re receiving an unemployment check or not.  That is, of course, until we give up and fall permanently out of the labor market.  At that point, we truly become invisible, as those who are neither receiving unemployment compensation nor are actively looking for a job don’t exist, at least as far as government statistics are concerned.

Either way, we unemployed people will find a way to get by.  We will lose our homes, we will sell everything we own, we will stuff three families into one dwelling, we will barter, we will adopt freegan habits of pulling discarded food from dumpsters, we will suffer, our children will suffer.

Until, that is, the bottom drops out and our worst nightmares come true.  Then we will be the ones holding the sign and hoping for a hamburger.  At that point, we shall, like Blanche DuBois, be forced to depend on the kindness of strangers.

And not the ones in Congress, either.

 

References

Delaney, Arthur, “Unemployment Insurance Extension Fails Again in Senate,”  Huffington Post (Updated Feb. 7, 2014). http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/06/unemployment-extension-senate_n_4739526.html

Kane, Paul, “Senate Hits Another Dead End on Unemployment Benefits,” Washington Post (Post Politics, Feb. 6, 2014).  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/02/06/senate-hits-another-dead-end-on-unemployment-benefits/

Peters, Jeremy W., “Senate Fails to Pass Three-Month Extension of Jobless Aid,” New York Times (Politics, Feb. 6, 2014).  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/07/us/politics/senate-fails-to-advance-unemployment-extension.html

Schwartz, Nelson D., “Jobs Report May Raise Questions on Pullback of Stimulus,” New York Times (Business Day, Feb. 7, 2014).  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/08/business/us-economy-adds-113000-jobs-unemployment-rate-at-6-6.html?hp&_r=0

 

Congress: No Unemployment for You!

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!

 

References

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

 

Monday: Still No Unemployment Vote in Senate

What’s going on the day after tomorrow?

It will be Thursday, and you know what that means.  Time to go on vacation!

If you’re an elected member of the U.S. Senate, that is.

Our legislators just returned from a weeklong New Year’s break.  They’ve been working at least a good solid eight days, so I think they deserve some more time off, don’t you?

Good thing we have a federal holiday coming up on Monday.  A lot of us have to work that day.  Some of us who have the day off will be doing volunteer work, making it a day of service.  And some of us will just relax and enjoy the three-day weekend.

Not Congress, however.  They will be off for eleven days.

Although it’s hard to feel sorry for Congress with that much time off, I must say that I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now.  Not only is interparty antagonism and bickering causing them to do a Rumpelstiltskin and tear themselves to pieces over the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act, but now they’re faced with another government shutdown if they fail to pass a spending bill before they go on vacation.  In case you’re interested, that’s 1.1 trillion dollars in spending we’re talking about.

A million and a half Americans who lost their federal unemployment extension checks when enabling legislation expired on December 28 were hopeful that a vote Monday might have restored their benefits, at least for a while.  But, alas, it was not to be.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to postpone a vote to avoid a likely filibuster and to provide more time for senators to engineer backroom compromise deals.  Republican senators want to tack on amendments of every stripe and ilk, most of which have nothing at all to do with unemployment compensation.  Reid seems to be willing (reluctantly) to go along with that, but no, that’s not enough for the Republican side of the aisle.  They want to ensure that the billions of dollars needed to write those unemployment checks are paid for by cuts to other programs.  “My Republican colleagues can’t take yes for an answer!” was his frustrated remark.

So work hard these next few days, Congress.  Put your shoulders to the wheel and make it happen.  You can do it!  Otherwise, close to a million government workers (who are scheduled to get a 1% raise, after all) are going to be on vacation right along with you folks.  Only their vacation won’t be paid like yours will be.  Until, that is, you finally vote through a bill that makes their paychecks retroactive, like you did the last time.

Well, so far it looks as if you may have the bipartisan thing going sufficiently to keep the government funded.  Hmm, think you might be able to do the same for those who have been out of work for more than six months and then lost their income right after Christmas?

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not entirely unsympathetic to the Republican position.  I do believe that limiting spending to reduce the ginormous federal budget deficit is a laudable goal.  However, Congress ought to descend from its ivory tower long enough to make fiscal decisions that will avoid perpetuating misery for millions of Americans.  Long enough to empathize with those who have been bounced out of a job and have no means of feeding their families.

Yes, there is room for debate about which programs should be cut.  But when you wield that knife, please don’t cut off the nose to spite the face.  Thanks.

 

References

Kane, Paul, “Reid, Boehner Face Showdowns on Unemployment Benefits, Farm Bill,” Washington Post (WP Politics, January 13, 2014).  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/reid-boehner-face-showdowns-on-unemployment-benefits-farm-bill/2014/01/13/875b3c42-7c6f-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html?tid=auto_complete

Klimas, Jacqueline, “Reed Delays Senate Vote on Unemployment Benefits Extension,” Washington Times (January 13, 2014). http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jan/13/reid-delays-senate-vote-on-unemployment-benefits-e/

Mascaro, Lisa, “Senate Closes in on Compromises for Budget, Jobless Insurance,” Los Angeles Times (Politics Now, January 13, 2014).  http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-senate-unemployment-benefits-extension-20140113,0,4713360.story#axzz2qMnfSzFO

Montgomery, Lori and Ed O’Keefe, “Lawmakers Unveil Massive $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill in Bipartisan Compromise,” Washington Post (Business, January 13, 2014).  http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/members-of-congress-to-unveil-massive-spending-bill-in-bipartisan-compromise/2014/01/13/71db3a8c-7c9e-11e3-9556-4a4bf7bcbd84_story.html?hpid=z1

 

Unemployed? Employers are Discriminating Against You

While the epic battle over the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act rages in the U.S. Senate, our elected representatives ought to consider that the “long-term unemployed” are a product of discrimination on the part of employers.

Discrimination?  Say what?

You heard right.

Let’s assume that just as soon as you get over the shock of being laid off, you begin looking for another job in earnest.  Does your chance of getting hired increase or decrease once you are out of work?

Looking at this question from the point of view of the employer, there are at least two schools of thought on whether or not it is a good idea to hire the unemployed.

  • Hire the unemployed! 
    • The unemployed face all kinds of financial pressure and are eager to work to avoid losing their families and ending up out on the street.
    • The unemployed aren’t in a position to be picky and are willing to perform difficult, onerous, repetitive or dirty jobs at which others would turn up their noses.
    • The unemployed are willing to work on the cheap.  After all, something is better than nothing, particularly when you can no longer put food on the table.
    • The unemployed are available immediately — no two week notice and all that!
  • Heavens no, don’t hire the unemployed! (Also known as “to get a job, you gotta have a job.”)
    • Don’t even bother.  The unemployed are so desperate, they apply for jobs for which they are overqualified or underqualified.  What a waste of time!
    • The unemployed are just looking for a stopgap job.  They’ll just leave as soon as they find something better.  Instead, hire someone who already has a job.  If an applicant is willing to leave his or her job to come work for us, you know this person is serious!
    • The unemployed are “scarred.”  These broken, dispirited people have been beaten down to the point where they have lost the will to succeed at any job.  During their time out of work, their skills have atrophied, they’ve missed out on technical updates and the only thing they’re good at anymore is sitting on their asses in front of the TV.
    • The unemployed tend to have health and family problems that will only end up costing the company money.

So, who’s right?

Word is that some employers have an informal policy of turning down the applications of anyone who is out of work.  And there are some employers who make no bones about it:  They have the guts to include a caveat in their employment ads that the unemployed need not apply.

If this sounds a lot like discrimination, that’s because it is.  And it’s perfectly legal.

This is what I call the “purple” type of discrimination.  If an employer loathes the color purple, he or she violates no law by kicking out any applicant who walks in wearing purple.  In other words, unemployment (like wearing purple garments) is not a “protected class” (like race, gender and disability, for example) under federal law, giving employers the right to discriminate to their heart’s content without legal consequence.

In 2012, the legislature in my home state of California voted in favor of a bill that would make discrimination against the unemployed illegal.  However, the measure failed to become law when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it.

The bottom line is that the unemployed tend to be looked at with suspicion by potential employers.

Not too long ago, when I found myself in a company’s lovely conference room to be interviewed by a panel of managers, I decided to relax and “just be myself.”  After all, I knew that I had excellent qualifications for the job.  So I explained to the panel how I became laid off when my previous employer had to resort to a reduction in force due to severe financial difficulties.  There were three rounds of layoffs, during which I lost most of the employees who I managed before losing my own job in the last of the rounds.

I wasn’t hired.

After all, who knows why an applicant really became unemployed?  Sure, they’ll tell you a good story, but who knows whether they’re telling you the truth?  Could be that the employee engaged in unethical practices, robbed the company blind, committed sexual harassment or was caught sleeping on the job.  You can reference check from here to Timbuktu, but no former employer will ever admit to any of these things for fear of being sued.

With this attitude on the part of employers, the unemployed, who already ended up on the losing end of the stick once, are guaranteed to be the losers again and again.

And our senators wonder why millions of Americans can’t find a job during their initial 26-week period of state benefits?

We must at least consider that employers may be the ones responsible for causing laid off workers to become the “long termers” that Senate Republicans find so repugnant.

References

Cohen, Adam, “Jobless Discrimination?  When Firms Won’t Even Consider Hiring Anyone Unemployed,” Time (May 23, 2011).  http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2073520,00.html

Gordon, Clare, “Employer Explains Why He Won’t Hire the Unemployed,” AOL Jobs (Oct. 12, 2012).  http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2012/10/12/employer-explains-why-he-wont-hire-the-unemployed/

Lemieux, Scott, “We Don’t Hire the Unemployed,” Lawyers, Guns & Money Blog (Nov. 18, 2012). http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2013/11/we-don%E2%80%99t-hire-the-unemployed

Lucas, Suzanne, “Unemployed?  5 Reasons Companies Won’t Hire You,” CBS Money (July 27, 2011). http://www.cbsnews.com/news/unemployed-5-reasons-companies-wont-hire-you/

Rampell, Catherine, “The Help-Wanted Sign Comes with a Frustrating Asterisk,” New York Times (Business Day, July 25, 2011).  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/business/help-wanted-ads-exclude-the-long-term-jobless.html?_r=0

Smooke, David, “10 Reasons to Hire the Unemployed,” Smart Recruiters Blog. http://www.smartrecruiters.com/blog/10-reasons-to-hire-the-unemployed/

 

Unemployment Wrangle and Mangle in the Senate

Last Sunday, USA Today published an editorial urging Congress to restore federal unemployment benefit extensions immediately.  About 1.3 million people who had already exhausted their 26 weeks of state unemployment compensation were cut off from federal extension benefits on December 28 when Congress failed to renew the enabling legislation and then went off on a weeklong New Year’s vacation.

Many major newspapers have expressed similar sentiments, as has President Obama.  And things were looking possible there for a while.

No vote occurred on Monday due to the weather keeping seventeen senators away.  On Tuesday, the Senate voted to open debate on the issue.  Promising, particularly since it took six votes from the Republican side of the aisle to accomplish this.

On Wednesday, and even into Thursday, there was talk of a bipartisan deal being reached, perhaps one that would go so far as to provide back benefits to those who were cut off two weeks ago.  Better than that, the plan was to provide federal unemployment benefits for up to 31 weeks (at a cost of 17 to 18 billion dollars) rather than for just three months (at a cost of over $6 billion).  The exact number of weeks of unemployment benefits to which a particular claimant would be entitled would depend on the unemployment rate in the person’s state of residence.

It was thought that a way had been found to satisfy the demand of Senate (and House) Republicans that any benefit extension be paid for by cuts elsewhere.  While there may not be other spending that can reasonably be cut right now, the plan was for the corresponding cuts to be made ten years from now, in 2024 (most of the cuts would have been to Medicare providers).  In other words, buy now and pay later — kind of like a credit card.

But alas, Senate Democrats and Republicans were unable to overcome their differences and things quickly began to fall apart.  At least three of the Republican senators who had voted Tuesday to open debate on the unemployment extension bill indicated that they would not approve the current version were it to come to the floor for a vote.  One complaint among Republican senators was that they had been excluded from the process of hammering out the compromise measure, specifically that they had been denied the opportunity to offer amendments.  Another was that Senate Republicans are not interested in providing long-term unemployment compensation and would only consider a short-term restoration of federal benefits, such as the original three-month plan.

Some senators expressed hope that there may still be a chance for the bill to get back on track on Monday.  Meanwhile, most families who had been receiving federal unemployment benefits through the end of 2013 have now begun to suffer the effects of a missing check.  Many of these families have no other source of support.

The USA Today editorial listed a few interesting tidbits regarding our current unemployment situation:

  • Nationally, the current unemployment rate is approximately 7%.  The last time the rate was this high was 20 years ago.
  • Long-term unemployment is at its highest level since World War II.  Over 4 million Americans have now been out of work for 27 weeks or more.
  • There are currently about three job seekers for every job opening.

Oh, and also, another 100,000 or so American families have now fallen off the federal unemployment rolls in addition to the 1.3 million who were out of luck on 12/28.

And yet, there are Republican senators, who we have elected to be our representatives, who continue to insist that the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act is misnamed because there is no “emergency.”

For real?

 

References

Espo, David, “Jobless Bill Stalls in Senate,” Miami Herald (Business Breaking News, January 9, 2014).  http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/01/09/3860878/reid-expresses-optimism-about.html

Hunt, Kasie, “Unemployment Aid Deal Stalls Again,” NBC News (First Read, January 9, 2014).  http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/09/22244801-unemployment-aid-deal-stalls-again?lite

Sargent, Greg, “Senators Close in on Way to Pay for Unemployment Benefits,” Washington Post (The Plum Line, January 9, 2014).  http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/01/09/dems-close-in-on-way-to-pay-for-unemployment-benefits/

Stein, Sam, Arthur Delaney and Michael McAuliff, “The Senate’s New Unemployment Deal is Already Falling Apart,” Huffington Post (HuffPost Politics, January 9, 2014).  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/09/senate-unemployment-insurance_n_4571118.html?utm_hp_ref=unemployment-extension

 

Senate Prepares to Debate Unemployment Extension Bill

dem rep

When the one hundred members of the U.S. Senate returned to Washington from their weeklong New Year’s vacation on Monday, they put off voting whether to open debate on a measure that would extend federal unemployment benefits.  The reason?  Seventeen senators were “not present in the chamber” due to the polar vortex wreaking havoc with air travel.

With the frozen 17 back in the saddle on Tuesday, the vote proceeded as scheduled.  Many believed that the vote would fall along party lines, leaving the Senate five votes short of the sixty needed to clear the filibuster hurdle.  Surprisingly, six Republicans voted in favor of debating the measure.  This should provide weeks or even months of spectacle as senators from opposite sides of the aisle duke it out while the potential beneficiaries of the measure continue to enjoy their Christmas present of having their unemployment benefits cut off.

Even if by some miracle the bill were to pass in both houses of Congress, unemployed Americans would not regain the three or four tiers of federal extension benefits they had received through the third week of December.  Quite the contrary.  The Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extension Act (S. 1845) would restore only three months of federal unemployment benefits.

The general idea seems to be that passing the bill is a temporary measure that would give Congress another three months to come up with a more permanent answer to the question “just how long should federal unemployment benefits last?”  From a Republican point of view, it would also provide Congress with another three months to try to find something else to cut in the federal budget to pay for the measure.

In an editorial published on Tuesday, The New York Times offered its opinion that Congress is putting on a grand show but is not serious about restoring unemployment benefits to those who have been out of work for a long time.

Perhaps the six Republican votes to open debate on the unemployment extension were designed to make the GOP look open-minded on the issue, rather than appearing to be insufferable curmudgeons.  After all, the Republican Party has everything to gain and nothing to lose.  Agreeing to debate the measure doesn’t mean that those six Republican senators will approve S. 1845 when it finally comes up for a vote.  Far from it.

For one thing, midterm congressional elections will be held later this year. Commentator Thomas B. Edsall noted this week that “in close contests, the long-term unemployed, along with their families and their friends, have the power to determine the outcome of those 2014 elections in which a percentage point gained or lost can be decisive.”

Even with Christmas over, Republicans would like to avoid playing the role of Scrooge for as long as they can get away with it.  Even House Speaker John Boehner has indicated that he would consider extending benefits for the unemployed if a way can be found to pay for them.

But three months of unemployment benefits will cost somewhere around $6.5 billion. And that’s a lot of cash to find just lying around.  It may be next to impossible to get Congress to agree to cut other programs in order to fund unemployment benefits.  “The [Republican] demand for a ‘pay for’ is just another way of saying that they aren’t serious about helping those in need,” states the Times editorial.

The losers, of course, are those who have been out of work for more than six months and, despite their best efforts, still can’t find a job.

President Obama continues to urge the two parties in Congress to find sufficient common ground to pass the unemployment extension.  In his weekly radio address on Saturday, he cited out-of-work mothers and fathers who are unable to provide their children with even basic necessities thanks to Congress allowing the law to expire last month.  “Denying families that security is just plain cruel,” stated the president.  “We’re a better country than that.  We don’t abandon our fellow Americans when times get tough — we keep the faith with them until they start that new job.”

As to Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate, President Obama’s plea is likely to fall on deaf ears.  Should Republicans stand firm in their miserliness, it is imperative that their own plea for our votes likewise fall on deaf ears come November.