Having callously blocked Senate action on an emergency 30-day extension of expanded jobless benefit programs for an entire week, Republican obstructionist Senator Jim Bunning late yesterday dropped his objection to proceed on the bill in the face of a wave of opposition and fissures in his own party.
Democrats had vowed to keep the Senate in session overnight if necessary to end Bunning’s obstruction. Senate Republican leaders, who had voiced support for Bunning earlier, finally convinced the retiring Kentucky Senator to allow a vote to proceed. An amendment Bunning offered was defeated 53-43 and the 30-day emergency unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidy extension finally passed 78-19. All of the 19 Senators voting against the bill were Republicans.
The 30-day emergency extension had passed the House by voice vote last week. After the Senate’s long-delayed action last night, President Obama signed the bill into law.
The expanded unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidy and other relief programs initiated in last year’s Recovery Act, extended twice in short-term measures after earlier Republican delays, had run out on Sunday February 28. Hundreds of thousands of jobless workers had begun to lose their unemployment insurance. The 30-day extension reinstates those benefits retroactively.
Blocking the extension measure had provoked a virtual rhubarb in the Senate, and sparked a well-deserved storm of protest against Bunning and Senate Republicans who displayed their utter disregard for the struggles of America’s nearly 15 million unemployed. The outrage prompted even the usually staid Bob Schieffer, host of CBS’ “Face the Nation”, to call Bunning’s obstruction “unconscionable.”
So Where Are We Now?
All of the Recovery Act’s expanded unemployment insurance (UI) programs and COBRA health insurance subsidies for eligible jobless workers have been extended through the end of March. Those programs, with their various Tiers of extra weeks and extended benefits in specific states, are explained in detail by George Wentworth of the National Employment Law Project in our prior post Unemployment Insurance – Ask an Expert. I highly recommend reviewing that invaluable post.
Jobless workers who are receiving unemployment insurance payments now will be able to continue to receive benefits at their current period of eligibility and have those benefits extended to the next Tier or Extended Benefits period depending on their state’s programs (again, please refer the ‘Ask an Expert‘ post).
For now, however, no additional Tier or added weeks of benefits beyond these programs is included in either the 30-day extension or the full-year plan now being considered in the Senate.
It took an entire week, tying up virtually all other Senate business, to get a temporary one-month benefits extension passed. That fact alone is reason enough for the Senate to move rapidly on the full-year extension of these and other programs supported by the Obama administration.
The Senate today returns to take up the larger year-long extension bill. More than 11 million Americans are depending on unemployment benefits, and more than 6 million jobless workers have been out of work for six months or more. One-month and two-month benefit program extensions, continuously delayed and obstructed as they’ve been, are just not sufficient.
Enough! Tell Congress to pass the full-year extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA now.