Senate breaks GOP filibuster on unemployment benefits

SENATE BREAKS GOP FILIBUSTER ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS…. About a month ago, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) blocked a vote on extending unemployment benefits, Medicare payments to doctors, and funding for highway projects. The ordeal quickly became farcical, and after five days, and under pressure from GOP leaders, Bunning relented and the bill passed.

Senate Republicans apparently enjoyed the partisan clash because they hosted a sequel, blocking unemployment benefits again. Last night, the Senate broke the GOP filibuster.

The Senate on Monday took a major, and likely decisive, step toward restoring jobless benefits for hundreds of thousands of people, as those constituents endured an eighth straight day without assurances of any help.

Efforts to provide the benefits have been stalled while senators fought over how and whether to pay for the aid. A 60-34 Senate vote Monday to overcome a procedural hurdle and move to a final vote offered new hope that the impasse will be broken later this week.

In the meantime, the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that studies employment issues, estimates that about 212,500 people lose benefits each week as Congress stalls on approving money for the aid. By the end of April, the total could be nearly 1 million. The jobless aid money ran out April 5.

“The American people are saying, ‘Why can’t those guys get together up there and get something done?’ ” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., asked during Monday’s debate. ” ‘Whatever happened to common sense?’ they say. ‘Why can’t you extend their unemployment benefits?’ “

The spending package, now very likely to pass, includes benefits for the unemployed (to be paid retroactively to cover the last week), payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, COBRA subsidies, and funding for the National Flood Insurance Program. Passage this week would prevent another 200,000 unemployed Americans from losing their benefits.

To overcome the GOP obstructionism, four Republicans broke party ranks to allow the Senate to vote up or down on the legislation: Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), and George Voinovich (Ohio).

Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), insisted that they were waging this fight because the measure was deemed an emergency bill paid for by deficit financing. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said, “It’s a question of whether we pay for it or we simply say, ‘Put it on the tab for our kids and grandkids to pay for it.'”

Kyl had no similar concerns when he supported asking our kids and grandkids to pay for the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, Bush’s tax cuts, Medicare Part D, and No Child Left Behind. He and his cohorts only seem troubled by deficits when it’s the unemployed who might benefit. I wonder why that is.

Breaking the filibuster clears the way for final passage, but the bill is nevertheless a temporary fix: “The measure would extend the extra unemployment pay only through early May.”

In other words, we may get to experience all of this again a month from now.