Mark Kirk Could Single-Handedly Break The Senate Stalemate on Unemployment Insurance. But He’s Focused on Other Things.

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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

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Senate Fails to Renew Emergency Unemployment Aid

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released this statement after a procedural vote on extending emergency unemployment insurance benefits failed in the Senate:

Today the Senate once again failed to approve an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, 40 days after the benefit was allowed to lapse. The bill fell short by one Republican vote. Just one vote prevented 1.7 million Americans from receiving a desperately needed lifeline. On Monday I joined Sheri Minkoff, an unemployed worker and single mother from Pittsburgh, in urging the Senate to help the millions of workers who are struggling. Sheri, like so many others, worked for years before losing her job in an economy that isn’t adding jobs nearly fast enough. Despite her experience, she has been unable to find work and has even been forced to dip into her son’s savings to pay for essentials. No family should have to experience what Sheri has, especially when there are not enough jobs for those who want to work. We urge the House and the Senate to make this right for Sheri and so many others. And we will not stop fighting until it happens.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Super Important Part of the Unemployment Insurance Debate the Media Keeps Ignoring

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:


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.

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Sen. Ayotte Pits Unemployed Workers Against Poor Children


Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has a plan. She says that to pay for extending unemployment insurance (UI), we should cut off the Child Tax Credit for 2 million families (5 million children), most of them Latino.

Let’s repeat that because it sounds kind of important.

To help the families of the 1.3 million workers who have been out of work for six months or more and lost their UI payments just before Christmas, Ayotte’s solution is to take money away from poor Latino children whose families are taxpayers.

That may be a valid solution to the extremists who run the Republican Party these days, but it comes across as a vindictive and mean-spirited move to most people, including a coalition of organizations that condemned the proposal in a Monday press conference.

“Senator Kelly Ayotte says she understands families, but her proposal to deny a child tax credit to a taxpaying immigrant family is an attack on innocent children. Pitting children against the long-term unemployed is nothing more than an ugly attempt to derail legislation to extend emergency unemployment for struggling families,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group that is part of the coalition. “Her proposed amendment should be soundly defeated as antithetical to the Gospel call to care for children and those at the margins of society, and to long-held values in our nation.”

The AFL-CIO is also part of the coalition and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre also condemned Ayotte’s plan:  “This cynical proposal doesn’t reflect the America I have come to know and love as an immigrant. My America doesn’t need to pit the jobless against the children of immigrants. We are better than that.”

The proposal targets not only aspiring citizens, but any individual not eligible for a Social Security Number, something that isn’t limited to undocumented immigrants. Ayotte’s proposal would deny Child Tax Credit eligibility to families using the alternate option for those who can’t obtain a Social Security Number, the Individual Tax Identification Number, and who are legally eligible for the Child Tax Credit.  This would deny the credit to approximately 5 million children in low-wage families, making it harder for those families to feed and provide housing for these children.

A recent poll on the topic found the obvious that voters oppose cuts to the Child Tax Credit, with 68% of those surveyed in opposition.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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House Republicans Draining at Least $600 Million a Week from the Economy

At the end of 2013, an emergency unemployment compensation extension program that started in 2008 under President George W. Bush expired, meaning 1.3 million jobless workers lost benefits that helped them house and feed their families. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have made it clear they want the program to go on, but House Republicans are refusing to act. Now Harvard economist Lawrence Katz says the “fiscally irresponsible” decision is costing America’s economy at least $600 million a week.

“It is actually fiscally irresponsible not to extend unemployment benefits,” Katz said. “The long-run cost to the taxpayers will be much higher from disconnecting people from the labor market.”

The program provided an average weekly payment of $305 to people who have been unemployed for longer than six months. The end of the program directly harms the economy because unemployed workers spend most, if not all, of the income they have as soon as they get it. The failure to extend the program not only is a major problem for the families directly involved and a drag on the economy, it will cost over 300,000 jobs if a solution isn’t found, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez explained the need for the emergency program to continue:

When Congress first passed this version of emergency unemployment compensation in 2008, and the president [George W. Bush] signed the law, the unemployment rate was 5.6%, and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today, the unemployment rate is 7%. The average duration of unemployment is now 36 weeks.

The administration also noted that the long-term unemployment rate, the percentage of the workforce that has been looking for work for 6 months or longer, is more than 2.5%, well above the 1% economists say we should expect during normal times.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Senate Passes Lopsided House Budget, Unemployment Insurance Extension Still Up in the Air

The U.S. Senate passed the House bipartisan budget agreement (64–36) last night, sending it to President Barack Obama, who has signaled he supports the package.

As we reported last week, the House budget averts another government shutdown and temporarily relieves some sequestration budget cuts but leaves long-term jobless workers out in the cold and inflicts further harm on federal workers, who have sacrificed more than enough to budget-cutting already.

In a statement earlier last week on the budget plan, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the deal “provides temporary relief from sequestration budget cuts over the next two years but does not represent the clean break from budget austerity that our economy so urgently needs.”

Trumka said it is “shocking” that congressional Republicans “have refused to include an extension of unemployment benefits” in the budget agreement. At the end of December, federal unemployment benefits will expire for 1.3 million jobless workers—while lawmakers are home for the holidays.

Call 1-877-318-0483 and tell your representative to extend unemployment insurance now. 

This morning at Politico’s Playbook Breakfast with Mike Allen, Trumka said Democrats need to step up and fight for policies that help the working class like unemployment insurance and raising the minimum wage.

The video of Trumka’s interview is available here.

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Put a Stop to This: Bad Credit? No Job for You!

Today’s jobless workers face new discriminatory barriers to finding work in a broken economy. Some employers won’t consider out-of-work applicants for job openings. And more and more employers run credit checks, leaving long-term jobless workers, who have likely fallen far behind in their bills and seen their credit scores tank, on the streets.

Today Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced a bill to stop employers from requiring prospective employees to disclose their credit history or disqualifying applicants based on a poor credit rating. Says Warren:

Families have not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, and too many Americans are still searching for jobs. This is about basic fairness—let people compete on the merits, not on whether they already have enough money to pay all their bills.

Even as the economy is slowly turning around, the recession and financial crisis continue to take a toll on working families. Many of whom are hardworking, bill-paying people who have seen the credit ratings damaged when they or a family member lost a job or a small business and saw the value of their homes plummet. Savings evaporate and payments get missed. Says Warren:

Most people recognize that bad credit means they will have trouble borrowing money or they will pay more to borrow. But many don’t realize that a damaged credit rating also can block access to a job.

While at one time it was common belief that a credit history could provide insight into a perspective employee’s character, Warren says that recent research has shown that an individual’s credit rating has little or no correlation with his ability to succeed at work. A bad credit rating is far more often the result of unexpected personal crisis or economic downturn than a reflection of someone’s abilities.

She also says, “This is one more way the game is rigged against the middle class.”

A rich person who loses a job or gets divorced or faces a family illness is unlikely to suffer from a drop in his or her credit rating. But for millions of hardworking families, hard personal blow translates into a hard financial blow that will show up for years in a credit report.

People shouldn’t be denied the chance to compete for jobs because of credit reports that bear no relationship to job performance and that, according to recent reports, are often riddled with inaccuracies. Click here to become a citizen co-sponsor of The Equal Employment for All Act.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) introduced the bill in the House late last year.

Photo via U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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North Carolina Unemployment Rises As Attacks on Workers and Voters Continue

The radical policies of North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and his legislative allies is having the opposite effect they said it would.

North Carolina’s unemployment rate rose to 8.9 percent in July, higher than the national average of 7.4 percent. That makes it the fifth highest in the nation.

Moreover, the sectors that grew are those that have the lowest wages:

Over the past 12 months, the leisure and hospitality sector has added 21,500 jobs, more than any other sector.

[N.C. Justice Center public policy analyst Allan] Freyer said that U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that those jobs pay an average of $8.30 an hour.

“That says the state’s growth opportunities are in ultra-low-wage jobs,” Freyer said. “That’s not the direction we want to be going.”

In recent months, Gov. McCrory and his allies enacted enormous cuts to unemployment insurance, which Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center called “one of the most radical, is not the most radical proposals in the country.” They also passed a tax plan that lowers income tax and corporate while slicing the earned income tax credit for struggling families.

Gov. McCrory claimed both measures would help “job creation.” The same refrain was used by Gov. Scott Walker for his actions in Wisconsin to strip collective bargaining rights from public workers and his own tax plan that ended the state earned income tax credit. Wisconsin is also experiencing economic woes, also falling behind the rest of the country on employment.

What both governors are ignoring is that we know the path to prosperity: higher wages, public investment in infrastructure and education, and a tax plan that asks the rich to pay their fair share. Not the exact opposite.

But as McCrory’s recent voter suppression law shows, he’s not really interested in what the people think. He’s more interested in following the Walker model of ALEC-inspired, pro-corporate, anti-worker governance. In both North Carolina and Wisconsin, hundreds have gone to jail in recent weeks for protesting the state’s leadership.

If you’re in North Carolina, join our fight for working families by emailing Catherine at [email protected]

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Even Children Recognize the Impact of Income Inequality and Social Service Cuts

The latest post in the Workonomics series at Upworthy asks the question, “How Did We Get to a Point Where a Child Is Saying Sorry to Her Mom for Costing Her Money?” The video is an excerpt from the HBO documentary “American Winter,” which follows eight families struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession. This clip shows how income inequality and cuts to social services have real consequences for families.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What the Members of the “Pro-Hunger” House Caucus Should Know About Who Gets Food Stamps

It’s true: the number of recipients of food stamps have gone up since the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression. But it turns out that some of the loudest critics and attackers of the program represent constituents who have the most to lose from food stamp cuts.

Bloomberg reviewed 2,049 U.S. counties for food stamp usage. Among the 250 counties with the highest concentration of food stamp recipients, 227 are wholly within one congressional district, with 160 represented by Republicans and 67 by Democrats.

Many of those same Republicans voted for a farm bill this past June that cut about $2 billion annually from food stamps. Many of them also voted for a July 11 farm bill that stripped all funding for food stamps – that bill passed the House.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) voted for both bills. He represents the second poorest district in the country, Kentucky’s 5th, where 32 percent of residents receive SNAP benefits.

His district also includes Owsley County, where 52 percent of residents received SNAP in 2011, a higher proportion than any other county in America.

Reporting for Bloomberg, John McCormick and Greg Giroux found that Owsley County residents were supportive of keeping the supplemental income:

“Of all the things they could cut in America, it shouldn’t be the food stamp program,” said Marshall, 58, who received Social Security disability payments and is raising three grandchildren, ages 7 through 17, in Booneville, Kentucky, on a monthly income of $1,255, all from the state or federal government.

In Owsley County, the unemployment rate is 11.8 percent, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training. Residents say few jobs are available in an area hit hard by the closing of coal mines…

“Almost everyone I know gets at least some food stamps,” said Sara Price, a Booneville resident who has used the program for about a decade and gets $333 a month for her family of six. “There used to be more stigma attached to it. There is no shame with it, if you are working and trying to make ends meet.”

Maxine Gibson, 47, said she gets $165 a month in food stamps that she uses for a grandchild and another child, ages 9 and 5, that she’s raising. With her Social Security disability and other government assistance, she said her household has about $1,500 a month in income. “I buy a lot of soup because it’s cheaper,” she said. “It really doesn’t last all month.”

But to ideological hardliners like Rep. Rogers, that doesn’t matter so much.

“If there was no deficit, they would still want to cut this kind of program,” Graham Wilson, the political science department chairman at Boston University, said of Republicans. “They have a fervent ideological belief that government should be cut back.”

Rep. Rogers was criticized in the local press for his votes. Yet just last year 84 percent of his constituents voted to send him back for his 16th term. Would they, and other SNAP recipients represented by Republicans, be so supportive if they knew what their lawmakers were up to?

Check out the Bloomberg piece, and while you’re at it, see what the Lexington Herald-Leader about Rep. Rogers’ votes.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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