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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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?
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.
[Friday] on a press call with bloggers, in response to the impending Republican filibuster of the jobs bill, Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said that Senate Republicans “want the economy to fail.” She additionally said that it was the most cynical political move she has ever seen, likely because Republicans stand to gain from the economic pain they will cause.
Senator Stabenow also said that the moderate Republicans she was negotiating with–such as Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, and Scott Brown–were negotiating in bad faith. Democrats satisfied all of their concerns, Stabenow said, but “they kept changing what the concerns were.”
It’s an extremely maddening and concerning time right now, and frankly we need your help. We’re in a situation where, after spending at least eight weeks on the floor trying to pass this jobs bill, which focuses on creating jobs as well as helping people … not one Republican is willing to help us stop this Republican filibuster.
On who Republicans are helping:
When you look as well underneath they are protecting wealthy investors, corporations sending jobs overseas and big oil companies — because we have included provisions to close tax loopholes in each of those areas.
Republicans are standing with them at a time when we desperately need to keep this economic recovery going and we desperately need to help people who are hurt. In Michigan, it’s estimated that by the end of this month we’re going to have 87,400 who are going to lose help, temporary help, in their unemployment benefits, by the end of this month. That’s literally the difference between somebody keeping a roof over their head, food on the table and a little gas in the car to go look for work.
I’m frankly outraged about what has been happening.
If they can stop the recovery from occurring, if they can create as much pain as possible, people will be angry and will not vote at all or will vote against those in the majority. This is a very cynical political strategy and I sure hope it doesn’t work.
Everybody’s talking about Senator Debbie Stabenow’s aggressive words today accusing the Republicans of tanking the economy and throwing millions out of work for political gain. I don’t see why this is even slightly controversial. The GOP is a party whose mouthpieces said from the very beginning that they wanted the president to fail and that they were planning his “Waterloo.” And anyone who understood how our government works (or even understands simple logic) knew that saying that in the midst of an economic crisis translates to making people suffer. There was no other way to interpret that so it makes sense.
Republican partisan politics won—and working families lost—again last night when Senate Republicans for the fourth time this year blocked a bill that would revive the extended unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program that is the last lifeline for millions of jobless workers.
The Republican blockade means about 250,000 unemployed workers a week lose their benefits, which averages around $300 a week, while Republican lawmakers take in a nifty $3,346.16 a week of taxpayers’ money.
The same old story happens again and again. Dems in the House pass reasonable legislation, and Senate Dems dicker with centrists and Republicans over “compromises,” weakening the legislation step by step over many weeks, only to find zero Republican support in the end.
The public has no idea what is going on, and just blames Democrats, who appear to be in charge in DC. Now it is happening again with vital public spending for national economy recovery — state aid, unemployment relief, and adjustments in taxes and Medicare payments. This legislation is not just important to this or that group. It matters for keeping any semblance of national economic growth going, for creating and saving hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The President, Congressional leaders, and Democrats of all stripes should be yelling day in, day out, that REPUBLICANS ARE SABOTAGING NATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY. AND PREVENTING JOB GROWTH, JUST FOR POLITICAL ADVANTAGE. That should be the message all the time, led by the President.
The tyranny of the Republican minority in the Senate was on display again Thursday as they continued to block a vote on a bill to extend unemployment insurance, provide aid to states for Medicaid and jobs, and remove some of the gaping loopholes that let wealthy hedge fund managers and corporations avoid paying a fair share in taxes.
By a vote of 57 to 41 Republicans succeeded in blocking an actual vote on yet another revision of H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act. Forty Republicans voted “No”, as did Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). Fifty-six Democrats voted “Yes”, and were joined this time by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and the aging Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) did not vote, although Byrd had indicated he would have voted “Yes” if his vote were needed to get to 60 votes.
Watching the vote on C-SPAN2, it appeared at the end that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) changed his vote to “No” so as to keep the bill alive, but that is not reflected in the posted roll call.
While it is not clear what happens next in the Senate, early indications are that Democrats are not giving up and that work will resume to get the bill passed.
Before the vote we noted it had been 23 days since Congress let the federal extended unemployment insurance programs lapse. Now it’s 27 days — with no end in sight. An estimated 40,000 long-term jobless workers a day are now joining the nearly 1 million who have already had their unemployment insurance benefits stop completely.
It’s not like there isn’t a consensus in the Senate in favor of the bill. Democrats have a clear majority to pass the bill. What they don’t have is the 60 votes needed to end the Republican-led filibuster and allow a simple up or down majority vote on the bill. That is the tyranny of the Republican minority, and it is not only threatening the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans, it also threatens to drive the economy as a whole back into an even deeper and longer-term recession.
While it is infuriating, it is also instructive to review what has transpired in the course of the effort to pass this bill.
Beginning last December, the effort was initiated, through this bill, to extend unemployment and other Recovery Act programs through the end of 2010, to help provide some underpinning to a recovery and strengthen supports for struggling families and those seeking new employment. Republicans continuously blocked those efforts, forcing lengthy legislative battles to simply extend the programs for temporary one-month and two-month periods.
With the last of those stopgap measures set to expire this June 2nd, Democrats presented a new version of the extension bill. They presented more paid-for provisions by including measures to eliminate many tax-avoidance schemes and loopholes that give tax breaks to wealth investment managers, to corporations that ship jobs overseas and to big oil companies.
Republicans said “No” and blocked the bill from coming to a vote.
Readers can reference all of our recent coverage through the tag here, but I’ll try to summarize.
All along, Democrats have sought the votes to pass the bill by reducing its scale and scope and granting concessions on some aspects of the tax loophole provisions. They agreed to reduce the unemployment extension by a month, from the end of December to the end of November.
In the House, they stripped out all of the critically-needed aid to state Medicaid programs as well as the federal COBRA insurance subsidy for eligible unemployment workers.
The Senate has tried to restore those provisions, first by including the state Medicaid support, and offering an amendment to restore COBRA. Republicans continued to block that version. Democrats then agreed to modify some of the tax loophole provisions to protect more of the income of wealthy hedge fund and other investment managers — hoping to attract some Republican support. That didn’t work either.
Democrats then eliminated the provision that adds $25 a week to all state and federal unemployment insurance benefits. Republicans still said “No.”
Then, in the latest version of the bill, Democrats cut the aid to states by nearly half, and reduced future food stamp benefits by more than $9 billion. Currently, more than 40 million Americans rely on the food stamp program to help feed their families.
But, as Thursday’s vote proved, all of that was not enough. Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, still voted to block the bill. So did Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown and Ohio’s George Voinovich, and every other Republican.
What is clear is that the Republicans want to protect the wealthy and the powerful special interests. And they do not care if it inflicts pain on average Americans, working families and the unemployed. Worse, it appears that, having driven the economy into the deepest recession since the Great Depression, they are now intent on knocking the legs out from under any recovery and sending the economy careening back into an ever-deeper recession.
And they want to then blame it on President Obama and the Democrats.
With Senate Republicans, it’s sado-economics meets sado-politics.
An estimated 40,000 long-term jobless workers a day have had their federal unemployment insurance payments stop since Congress allowed the program to lapse over Memorial Day weekend. Of the 6.8 million Americans who have been out of work for six months or more, the number who have lost their benefits is now approaching 1 million.
Yet another version of the bill to extend these benefits may come up for votes in the Senate today or tomorrow. Every Republican Senator and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) have thus far continuously blocked the bill.
Reuters is reporting that while Democrats have offered a series of changes and concessions in an effort to gain at least two Republican votes, the outcome is still in doubt:
In an effort to break a stalemate over a package of unemployment aid and business tax breaks, Senate Democrats on Wednesday offered a compromise that would pare proposed aid to cash-strapped states.
Democrats had hope the changes to the legislation, which also would increase taxes on investment fund managers, would attract some Republicans support, but Senate aides said that appears doubtful. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is pushing for a vote on the legislation by the end of the week.
In an effort to trim the cost, the new version pares down proposed Medicaid aid to states struggling to balance their budgets. States are pushing Congress to extend beyond the December expiration date the extra funds for the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor that were included in the stimulus plan passed last year. The program takes up an average 20 percent of state budgets.
Time is running out for lawmakers. Most states begin their fiscal year next week, and many banked on an extension of the Medicaid boost when drafting their budgets.
The extra Medicaid funding would decline to 3.2 percent in the first three months of 2011 and to 1.2 percent through June. A draft floated on Tuesday had a phase-down to 5.3 percent and then 3.2 percent.
Senate Democratic leaders are trying to get support from a recalcitrant group of Republicans including Maine’s two Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, who appear to be getting a lot of calls from constituents, as well as Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA). Sixty votes are needed to overcome the Republican-led filibuster.
Every day it becomes more and more clear that the Republican refusal to allow a vote to restore the extended unemployment insurance programs has little to do with their oft-repeated but disingenuous “deficit” concerns.
THE LONG-TERM unemployment rate is at a record level. So is the federal deficit. Both of these are serious concerns. But it is possible — in theory, anyway — for Congress to be both compassionate and prudent. In the short term, lawmakers should resolve the logjam that has allowed federal benefits to lapse for more than 900,000 unemployed.
More than 40 percent of the unemployed have been without work for six months. More alarming, nearly one-fourth have been jobless for a year or longer, according to calculations by the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative. Generally, states pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits; in periods of high unemployment, the federal government steps in to cover additional weeks. During the current recession, benefits can last up to 99 weeks.
On June 1, that emergency federal program expired, and the Senate has been unable to muster the 60 votes needed to reinstate it, as part of a package that would also include extending some expiring tax cuts and providing extra Medicaid money to cash-strapped states. Without congressional action, more than 2 million of the unemployed will have lost benefits by July 10, some after just 26 weeks.
Part of what’s holding up Senate action is a dispute over whether lawmakers have gone too far — too far! — in closing tax loopholes for the wealthy to help pay for the package. One involves “carried interest,” the mechanism that investment bankers and venture capitalists use to pay lower tax rates on their income from doing deals. Doing away with this tax dodge would have raised $24 billion over 10 years; that has now been whittled down to $13 billion. The same is happening with an effort to close the so-called John Edwards loophole, under which small partnerships such as law firms avoid paying Medicare payroll taxes by casting their income as profits rather than salary. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), a key potential vote, has called this provision “a poison pill.”
Amazingly, while senators work to keep these loopholes open, they are trying to trim the final cost of the package by cutting close to $8 billion in future food stamp benefits. What kind of priorities does this choice reflect?
This morning the AP reports that the continued weakness in the labor market is now even more of a concern in light of a drop in durable goods orders:
The Labor Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 457,000 last week. That’s slightly better than the 460,000 forecast by economists polled by Thomson Reuters.
However, initial jobless claims are still above levels that would signal employers are ramping up hiring. Claims have remained high in recent months, calling into question whether a strong, sustained recovery can occur without significant job growth.
A second report showed orders for durable goods fell last month for the first time in six months. Orders for big-ticket goods fell 1.1 percent in May, slightly better than the 1.3 percent drop predicted.
Five of six recent national polls show that Americans are far more concerned about jobs and the economic recovery than they are about the budget deficit. FiveThirtyEight reports (via Ben Somberg):
A Pew Research / National Journal poll from early June asked “Which of the following national economic issues worries you most?” Number one was “job situation” with 41%. “Federal budget deficit” got 23%.
An NBC / Wall Street Journal poll from early May asked “Please tell me which one of these items you think should be the top priority for the federal government.” Sure enough, “job creation and economic growth” won with 35%. “The deficit and government spending” got 20%.
A Fox News poll also in early May got even more dramatic results. “Economy and jobs” topped the priority list with 47%, while “deficit, spending” garnered only 15%.
A CBS / NYT poll in early April found 27% prioritizing “jobs”, 27% the “economy” and 5% prioritizing “budget deficit/national debt.”
In the USA Today / Gallup poll from late May . . . participants were asked “How serious a threat to the future well-being of the United States do you consider each of the following.” For “federal government debt”, 40% said extremely serious, 39% very serious, and 15% somewhat serious. For “unemployment”, 33% said extremely serious, 50% said very serious, and 15% said somewhat serious.
a newer Gallup poll, from a week ago, asking “What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?” finds the economy and jobs on top. “Economy in general” gets 28%, “Unemployment/Jobs” gets 21%, and “Federal budget deficit” gets 7%.
Twenty-three days and counting. When will the Senate get its wake-up call? Call toll-free 888-254-5087.