Waiting on unemployment benefits

WAITING ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS…. About five weeks ago, the House passed an extension of unemployment insurance. It wasn’t especially close — the chamber passed the bill 331 to 83, giving the measure a strong bipartisan majority.

Given the difficult economic conditions, the House vote, White House support, and the public’s expectations, it stood to reason that the Senate would act quickly. Indeed, Senate Dems ensured that the benefits extension would be paid for, so conservatives couldn’t complain that the bill would increase the deficit.

But Senate Republicans have other ideas. Mike Lillis reports:

Not only do GOP leaders want to alter the way the bill is funded, but they’re insisting that a handful of politically charged amendments also get consideration, including provisions to de-fund ACORN and keep illegal immigrants out of the workplace. Since the start of the deadlock, more than 125,000 Americans have lost their unemployment insurance benefits.

The stalemate has frustrated Democratic leaders, who twice this month have attempted to pass the extension, only to be rebuffed by Republicans on the Senate floor. It’s also left a growing number of jobless Americans and their advocates indignant that lawmakers would make political hay out of their misfortunes in the middle of the worst employment crisis in a generation.

“Unemployed workers across the country are devastated and dismayed by the failure of the U.S. Senate to extend their lifeline,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement. “It’s shameful and callous.”

Those adjectives seem to come up quite a bit when it comes to Senate Republicans, don’t they?

Of particular interest, some of the GOP amendments would increase the deficit. Democrats approve of some of the ideas — such as extending the tax credit for first-time homebuyers — but are trying not to add to the deficit. Republicans, again, don’t care, and are pushing popular amendments in the hopes Dems will vote against them.

Senate Democrats are expected to try again tomorrow, hoping to break the impasse. Here’s hoping they’re successful — as Lillis noted, “The delay has consequences. Each day the Senate idles, another 7,000 Americans lose their unemployment insurance benefits, according to figures released by the National Employment Law Project this month. By year’s end, the group estimates, roughly 1.3 million people will have exhausted their benefits unless Congress steps in.”