In January, Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois was one of six Republicans to allow a bill extending unemployment insurance (UI) to proceed in the Senate.
But when the bill was coming up for a cloture vote, Kirk said that he would only vote for it if the costs were offset by spending cuts.
After much negotiation, Democrats and Republicans figured out a solution to pay for extending unemployment insurance. That bill was expected to break the filibuster on February 6, but it fell one vote short. Going back on his promise, had Kirk remained with the filibuster. On Twitter, he said it was because the negotiated offsets were “political gimmicks.”
Let’s get back to gimmicks in a second. First, here’s what’s happening while the Republican-led filibuster of UI remains in place.
The number of Americans without emergency unemployment benefits continues to grow. 1.3 million Americans, including 20,000 recent veterans, lost UI when the benefits first expired last December. Since then, another 400,000 Americans have joined their ranks.
Illinois has an unemployment rate higher than the national average, 8.9 percent as of October. More than 119,000 Illinois residents will lose benefits by the end of next week if UI is not extended. Not surprisingly, polling shows they support a UI extension 63-31.
The same poll showed that 40 percent of respondents say they are less likely to vote for Kirk because of his obstruction of UI.
It’s not clear what Kirk is waiting for. It is clear, however, how he has been spending his time and office resources.
Other than the one tweet, Kirk didn’t issue a press release about his vote. On his official website, there is no information on why he voted for, then twice against, extending unemployment insurance.
But there is an extensive Flash-powered page dedicated to the 11 Olympic athletes who hail from Illinois.
Kirk’s office also posted extensively on all his social media channels for the two week duration of the Sochi games.
Seems like Senator Kirk is plenty familiar with “political gimmicks.”
By April 5, the total number of Americans cut off from emergency unemployment insurance will reach 2.3 million. At any time, Senator Kirk can drop his support for the Republican-led filibuster and allow the bill to proceed on an up-or-down vote. Like he said he would.
Isn’t that the least he can do for 1.7 million job-seekers? Or do unemployed Illinoisans have to be Olympic athletes to get their Senator’s attention?
Tell your Senator to end the games: renew unemployment insurance now.
Photo by juggernautco on Flickr
Tags: filibuster, Illinois, Jobs, Mark Kirk, olympics, unemployment, unemployment insurance
A quick survey of news clips about Congress from the past year, particularly the U.S. Senate, will yield a lot of this type of phrasing: Bill fails in Senate. Senate can’t agree on new law. Gridlock rules as Senate agreement fails. Bill can’t get the votes to pass the Senate.
So when pollsters go out and ask the American people what they think about Congress, they respond in kind. People overwhelmingly want “less gridlock.” They want politicians of both parties to “work together to find solutions.” 9 times out of 10, this doesn’t happen, which leads to more dissatisfaction.
People, for the most part, are suggesting an incorrect solution because they are presented with an incorrect problem.
In the U.S. Senate, the problem is the radical abuse of the filibuster, mainly by the Republican caucus lead by Mitch McConnell (R-KY). This forces bills to need 60 votes to reach “cloture,” instead of the usual outright majority of 51 votes.
In 1975, Senate rules changed, allowing Senators to enforce a 60-vote threshold without the “talking filibuster” made famous by Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the interest of fairness, it’s true that neither party has their hands clean when it comes to use of the filibuster. But sheer numbers show that since Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, and especially since President Obama was elected, the 60-vote enforcement has been out of control.
There have been many bills that have received the majority of votes–50, 55, or even 59 votes–in the U.S. Senate that haven’t become law simply because of this procedure. But the headlines make it seem like it’s just a bunch of politicians who won’t agree. Ari Melber wrote this after a filibuster of President Obama’s jobs bill in October 2011:
If you glance at the headlines, though, you’d think the Senate just failed to come up with the votes for this bill. Here are just a few typical (and influential) examples:
OBAMA’S JOBS BILL HITS WALL IN SENATE (WSJ)
JOBS MEASURE IS DEFEATED IN SENATE TEST (NYT)
OBAMA’S JOBS BILL FAILS TO ADVANCE IN SENATE DESPITE WHITE HOUSE PUSH (Fox News)
Political reporters have become so accustomed to the constant abuse of the filibuster, they don’t even lead with the news here: A jobs bill during an unemployment crisis has majority support, but is being blocked from a straight vote.
So in the case of emergency unemployment insurance, a vital lifeline for 1.3 million Americans, including about 100,000 veterans and at least 20,000 recent veterans, let’s not be asking “why can’t they agree” or “why is there gridlock.”
We should be asking why, with long-term unemployment at an all-time high, is this bill not receiving a simple, 50-vote majority up-or-down vote?
Call your Senator now, and tell them to immediately renew unemployment insurance.
Tags: Corporate Accountability, democracy, filibuster, Mitch McConnell, unemployment, unemployment insurance
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is now fully staffed and able to continue to function to protect workers’ rights after the U.S. Senate today confirmed five members. The votes end a months-long blockade on President Obama’s nominees by Senate Republicans who threatened to shut the board down Aug. 27.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the confirmations are:
Good news for all workers seeking to exercise the rights they are guaranteed by law. Those essential rights include the ability to bargain together for fair wages and living standards and a workplace safe from abuse, harassment and intimidation.
The five members are current NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce; Nancy Schiffer, a former AFL-CIO associate general counsel; and NLRB attorney Kent Hirozawa, currently the chief counsel to Pearce; and attorneys Philip Miscimarra and Harry Johnson, who represent management in labor-management relations.
Earlier this month, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was set to change Senate rules that would have eliminated filibusters against certain executive branch nominees, Republicans ended their obstruction tactics on the NLRB nominees, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez and several others.
Trumka said the obstructionism by extremist Republicans “delayed the confirmation of a full Board and caused unnecessary anxiety and pain for working families.”
He also said:
With today’s vote, our country has qualified public servants on duty to defend America’s workers, businesses and families. We congratulate all of the nominees and look forward to having a functioning NLRB that will fairly and impartially oversee the workplace rights of millions of Americans.
Read Trumka’s full statement.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: filibuster, labor, NLRB, organizing, Richard Trumka, Rights At Work, union
Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog
Some of the most vocal opponents of the move to change U.S. Senate rules, including a proposal to help unblock Senate gridlock by ending the “silent filibuster” and actually forcing filibustering senators to take to the floor and talk if they want to block legislation, are lobbyists who profit from Senate dysfunction.
The Nation’s Lee Fang outlines how Republican-led filibusters and “silent holds” on nominations have resulted in some Big Business windfalls for corporations that just happened to be large contributors to the senators’ campaigns. Sort of an everybody wins situation for lobbyists, lawmakers and corporations, but pretty much a losing proposition for the rest of us.
Fang points to Steven Duffield, the vice president for policy for Karl Rove’s “dark money” group Crossroads GPS, as one of the most vigorous rules reform opponents who has touted his ability to get Republican lawmakers to unleash filibusters and holds and who, writes Fang, “literally sold filibusters, anonymous holds and the other forms of obstruction” during his 2011 lobbying work. Read Fang’s full story.
Don’t forget most of these same lawmakers, corporations and right-wing groups have used filibusters and holds to block bills, such as the DREAM Act and the American Jobs Act, and nominees, such as Elizabeth Warren to head up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as appointments to the National Labor Relations Board.
You can learn more by visiting “Fix the Senate Now,” part of the campaign led by the Communications Workers of America and other groups to reform Senate rules, and check out this video, The Shocking Truth About the U.S. Senate.
Tags: Corporate Accountability, filibuster, Senate
Congress has finally passed a bill to restore extended federal unemployment insurance to more than 2.7 million jobless workers, continue the program for millions more, and allow those unemployed for more than 26 weeks to file for the program through the end of November.
President Obama is scheduled to sign the unemployment extension later today.
The House passed the measure this afternoon, with the Senate having approved it last night by a vote of 59 to 39. Even after their two-month filibuster was finally overcome, Senate Republicans delayed a final vote for an additional 30 hours by refusing to give back any post-cloture time. The added delay caused another 60,000 long-term jobless workers to have their benefits cut off temporarily.
Now those benefits will begin to be paid out retroactive to June 1 when the Republican-led obstruction caused them to expire.
The victory on unemployment insurance comes just one day after President Obama signed a landmark Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act which was passed by the Congress despite strenuous opposition from Wall Street’s lobbyists and conservative Republicans — the very folks whose disastrous policies caused the Great Recession and our debilitating high levels of unemployment.
The agonizing two-month struggle to pass an unemployment insurance extension exposed the Republicans as deficit frauds who want to block any measures to improve the economy and support a recovery. In their calculations, the more pain working families are in, the better the Republicans’ chances are politically.
That’s why renewed efforts are needed now to press the Congress to take up the critical measures that were put aside during the unemployment extension struggle. Congress needs to extend FMAP funds to help states pay for Medicaid and avoid mass layoffs; and it needs to provide critical state aid to help keep teachers in classrooms in the coming school year.
Tell the Congress there’s no time to waste, swift action is needed to provide this critical aid to states.
Tags: filibuster, FMAP, jobless benefits extentsion, Jobs, unemployment
After an infuriating two-month struggle to overcome the obstruction of the Republican-led deficit frauds, the Senate finally voted 60 to 40 today to end the filibuster and allow a vote to restore the extended federal unemployment benefit programs through November.
Upon final passage, the measure will go back to the House, which is set to pass it Wednesday and send it to President Obama for his signature. Since Republicans first succeeded in blocking the jobless benefits extension prior to the Memorial Day weekend, the number of long-term unemployed workers who have had their benefits cut off has continued its inexorable rise.
The Senate’s newest (and youngest) member, Democrat Carte Goodwin of West Virginia, provided the 60th vote needed to end the Republican-led filibuster. Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, also voted to end the filibuster, as did every Democrat with the exception of Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.
The bill will allow states to pay the extended benefits to eligible jobless workers retroactive to when they expired on June 1. Those who had been receiving these benefits prior to that date will also be eligible to file for their next available Tier of benefits, and will be able to continue doing so if needed until the duration of benefits is exhausted. Those who had exhausted their regular 26-week state benefits from June 1 until now will be eligible to file for and receive the extended federal benefits available in their state.
The extension, however, does not create any additional Tiers of benefits beyond the existing EUC and EB programs for those who have already exhausted the up to 99 weeks of unemployment compensation.
And because this extension continues only through the end of November, it will not provide federal benefits to those who have or will become unemployed after June 1 of this year.
The bill is a stand-alone, six-month unemployment extension only. The number of other critically needed jobless aid, state aid and jobs provisions that were stripped from the original bill is staggering — evidence of the full-scale war being waged by the conservative minority to thwart any recovery that might benefit working people.
For example, the bill no longer contains the additional $25 per week that had been included previously in unemployment checks. The federal COBRA subsidy, which has helped millions of unemployed workers maintain affordable health insurance while they look for work, was also removed. An extension of additional FMAP funds to states to help support Medicaid programs, as well as funds for summer youth jobs and expanded infrastructure investments all were removed from the bill.
So, while the victory on unemployment benefits will restore urgently needed aid for millions of America’s record number of long-term jobless workers, it is also a testament to the persistence and fortitude of those families and individuals, and all the groups and organizations who have fought so hard, and mobilized petitions, emails, phone calls and letters to finally get this done.
More than that — it also has served to educate us as to the real objectives of our opponents, and the nature of the crucial policy and political challenges ahead.
Tags: filibuster, jobless benefits extentsion, Jobs, unemployment
The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday to extend federal unemployment insurance programs, finally overcoming a two-month Republican-led filibuster that has caused jobless benefits to be cut off to more than 2.6 million long-term unemployed workers.
The vote on the six-month unemployment extension is scheduled to occur shortly after the swearing in of West Virginia Democrat Carte Goodwin as the Senator named to temporarily replace Robert Byrd, who passed away last month. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III announced his choice of Goodwin last Friday. When Goodwin is sworn in as the newest Senator, Democrats expect to finally have the 60th vote they have needed to break the Republican filibuster.
The extension of the federal jobless benefits for those unemployed six months or more has been blocked three times by Republicans in the Senate. Earlier versions of the bill were continuously pared down in an attempt to attract the 60 votes needed. Despite a clear majority of Senators favoring the bills, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska joined all but two Republicans in keeping the bills from being considered for floor votes.
Meanwhile the number of long-term unemployed cut off from receiving benefits has continued to soar.
As we reported two weeks ago, never before have extended benefits been cut off or allowed to expire when unemployment was so high. Never before has a Senate minority effectively cut those benefits off. And never before have they done so arguing that those benefits don’t qualify as emergency spending, and should not be passed if they add to the deficit.
The Republicans have been shown to be deficit frauds, of course, at the same time insisting that the Bush-era tax cuts to benefit the wealthiest Americans should be extended regardless of those tax cuts adding more than $600 billion to the deficit — more than 20 times as much as the cost of the unemployment benefits.
President Obama blasted the Republicans for filibustering recovery and obstructing progress in his weekly address this past Saturday. And standing with unemployed workers at a news conference this morning, the President called on the Senate to pass the jobless benefits extension:
But right now, these benefits – benefits that are often a person’s sole source of income while they’re out of work – are in jeopardy. After years of championing policies that turned a record surplus into a massive deficit, the same people who didn’t have any problem spending hundreds of billions of dollars on tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are now saying we shouldn’t offer relief to middle class Americans like Jim, or Leslie, or Denise, who really do need help.
Over the past few weeks, a majority of Senators have tried – not once, not twice, but three times – to extend emergency relief on a temporary basis. And each time, a partisan minority in the Senate has used parliamentary maneuvers to block a vote, denying millions of people who are out of work much-needed relief. Republican leaders in the Senate are advancing a misguided notion that emergency relief somehow discourages people from looking for a job.
Well, I think that reflects a lack of faith in the American people.
The bill being considered extends eligibility for the existing federal unemployment programs only through November of this year, and does not include any new Tier for those who have exhausted up to 99 weeks of benefits.
Tags: filibuster, jobless benefits extentsion, Jobs, unemployment
More than 2 million long-term jobless workers have had their unemployment benefits cut off since the beginning of June, when Congress failed to pass an extension of the federal programs. Prior to the July 4th weekend, an extension of those unemployment insurance programs passed the House, but came up one vote short in the Senate.
Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, broke with the Republican filibuster and voted to allow the bill to come up for a simple majority floor vote. But Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson has been the lone Democrat to stubbornly back the Republican filibuster. And every other Republican Senator has continued to help block the unemployment extension.
With the passing of West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd, Senate Democrats and millions of Americans have been waiting for a temporary replacement to be named to take Senator Byrd’s seat. That person would be expected to provide the crucial 60th vote to overcome the filibuster.
Well, the wait for that one-more-vote will, reportedly, soon be over.
From the Washington Independent:
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) is now expected to name a replacement for late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) by 5 p.m. Friday.
NBC News’ Kelly O’Donnell reports:
Aides say Manchin will call the Legislature into special session to consider the legislation starting noon Thursday, July 15. The governor is expected to make an appointment, to fill the senate seat temporarily, by 5 p.m. this Friday.
An aide to the governor says, “This bill would merely clarify the state code so that there is no question that we could have a special primary and special general election.”
And from USA Today:
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin will announce an interim replacement for the late Sen. Robert Byrd on Friday and will call the Legislature into a special session to clarify the state’s election law, his office announced today.
Manchin, a Democrat, did not say who he would name to replace Byrd, who died June 28. The timing of the appointment may be less critical for Senate Democrats, who are now prepared to move forward on a sweeping Wall Street regulation bill before Byrd’s seat is filled.
So, the Senate will likely take up the Wall Street reform bill this week, and wait for Byrd’s replacement before bringing the unemployment extension back to the floor next week. By then, thanks to the Republican-led filibuster, an estimated 2.5 million long-term jobless workers will have had their benefits cut off — while waiting for that one-more-vote.
Tags: filibuster, jobless benefits extentsion, unemployment
It has been 36 days since an obstructionist minority in Congress allowed federal unemployment benefit programs to expire.
During that time, an estimated 1.72 million long-term jobless workers have already had their unemployment benefits cut off, a number expected to exceed 2 million by the end of this week. Also during that time, Congress has taken two 10-day recesses and several long weekends off.
Prior to the current July 4th recess, the House passed a stand-alone unemployment extension, but the Senate came up one vote short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the minority’s obstruction.
In that last vote, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to join the 36 Republicans who voted “No”, thereby blocking a straight up-or-down majority vote on the bill. Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted “Yes” after the stand-alone unemployment extension was substituted for the original, larger bill. Still, the bill needed one more vote to achieve the 60 vote threshold.
Where is that one vote going to come from when the Senate reconvenes next week? And who are you going to call to help make that happen? We’ll offer some suggestions and local contact information. But first, let’s put the unemployment benefit extension in some historical perspective.
According to a report released last week by the National Employment Law Project and the Center for American Progress:
Never before has Congress cut off benefits when unemployment was so high. Since the 1950s, federal unemployment insurance extensions remained in place during recessionary periods until unemployment dropped to as low as 5.0 percent. The highest unemployment rate at which these extensions were allowed to expire was 7.2 percent, following the 1983 recession -
Not only were unemployment insurance extensions continued at much lower overall unemployment rates during these previous recessions, but they were maintained when long-term unemployment was far less severe than it is now. The number of unemployed workers who have been jobless for six months or more is at a record 6.8 million Americans, and the average length of unemployment in June set a new record at 35.2 weeks. It is the unemployment benefits for these long-term jobless workers that are being cut off now by the failure to extend these programs. An estimated 350,000 long-term unemployed workers are losing their benefits each week that the programs are not restored. This is devastating families and hurting businesses in local communities where beneficiaries would be spending these unemployment insurance payments.
The expiration of the federal programs has cut off benefits nationwide to those eligible for Tiers I through IV of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. It has also cut off federally-funded Extended Benefits (EB) in 23 states that would otherwise have these extra 13 or 20 weeks of unemployment insurance available for long-term jobless workers. Only 11 states maintain permanent EB programs that do not depend on federal funding.
What’s worse is that the extended benefits program, although permanently in place in all states, will not continue to provide extensions for most recipients relying on unemployment insurance extensions to feed themselves and their families, and keep their homes. Most states were able to distribute extended benefits through the optional trigger they took up (based on their unemployment rates) following the availability of federal funding through the Recovery Act. All 27 states that took up the optional trigger for extended benefits made the trigger dependent on full federal funding. In other words, when federal funding ended, so did the extended benefits program in most states.
In fact, only 11 states will remain on the extended benefits program now that federal funding has not yet been renewed. These 11 states boast permanent unemployment rate triggers that are not dependent upon federal funding to go into effect, and thus will continue to provide between 13 weeks and 20 weeks of additional unemployment benefits (see map).
The lapse in congressional reauthorization forces 23 states and the District of Columbia to stop distributing extended benefits at a time when additional unemployment insurance benefits are needed most.
Is it possible that a United States Senator cannot understand what this means for those working Americans who were unfortunate enough to have had their jobs taken from them by this monster recession?
Perhaps this will help describe it:
Imagine, Senators, that your weekly pay of $3,346.15 were reduced by, say, $3,000 and you and your family were left to try to get by on $346.15 a week — which is, by the way, slightly more than the average weekly unemployment check.
Now imagine that, suddenly, even that meager $346.15 a week disappeared as well.
That’s what it’s like already for nearly two million long-term jobless workers. Except they did not have the benefit of previously having a $174,000-a-year job — one where they worked an average of less than 4 days a week.
There’s no way to know when a replacement for the departed Democratic Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia will be seated. And Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson appears to be determined to be the Democrat who’s going to out-Lieberman Lieberman.
So it falls to us to try to persuade at least one more Republican to allow a simple vote by a clear Senate majority to decide the fate of the federal unemployment extension, and that of millions of Americans.
I’d suggest calling these Senators’ home-state offices this week while they’re on recess, and telling them to end the obstruction of unemployment benefits that are desperately needed in their own states:
Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA)
Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH)
Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO)
Jefferson City: 573-634-2488
Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)
Las Vegas: 702-388-6605
I’m starting with Scott Brown…. Who you gonna call?
Tags: filibuster, jobless benefits extentsion, Jobs, unemployment
The House of Representatives has passed a stand-alone bill to restore extended federal unemployment insurance benefits eligibility through the end of November. The vote was 270 to 153, a 117-vote margin in favor of the bill that would apply emergency spending provisions to fund the extended programs, and make their restoration retroactive to June 2nd. 241 Democrats were joined by 29 Republican House members voting in favor of the measure.
The victory in the House was a testament to the mounting public outrage over the failure of Congress to extend the federal unemployment programs. Since they were allowed to expire Memorial Day weekend, more than 1.2 million long-term unemployed workers have already stopped receiving any jobless benefits, with approximately 40,000 more added to those ranks every day.
The House victory, however, comes after the Senate again failed to move similar legislation to a vote last night. With 59 votes in favor of a cloture motion, the Senate’s unemployment extension measure was again blocked from getting a straight up-or-down majority vote. The final vote shows as 58 to 38, but that was after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) switched his vote to “No” — a procedural move to keep the bill alive and allow it to be reconsidered.
But that won’t happen until the Senate returns on July 12th from a Fourth of July week-long recess. If this feels eerily similar to what happened just before Memorial Day weekend, well that’s because it is.
Just last week, in their effort to impose sado-economic austerity on the U.S., all Senate Republicans, joined by Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, succeeded in blocking a larger jobs bill that included the unemployment extension.
This time, with a virtually stand-alone unemployment bill, Democrats were joined by Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who seem to have finally gotten the message.
Sen. Ben Nelson again voted “No”, as did Republicans Scott Brown (MA), George Voinovich (OH) and Lisa Murkowski (AK), all of whom were receiving heavy constituent calls to support the bill, according to Senate sources. Also under pressure from constituents was retiring Missouri Republican Kit Bond, who did not vote.
With the passing of Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) this week, Democrats may have to wait for his replacement to be seated, unless they can garner one more vote to get to 60.
Pat Garofalo on the Wonk Room at Think Progress has an excellent piece on the 17 Senators from states with double-digit unemployment rates that repeatedly have supported the Republican-led filibuster of unemployment benefits.
Annie Lowrey at the Washington Independent has a lengthy rundown on all the recent rounds in this now-epic legislative battle.
Tags: filibuster, jobless benefits extentsion, unemployment