Ben’s betrayal

BEN’S BETRAYAL…. By definition, when the Senate majority is looking for 60 votes, but comes up with 59, every opponent was necessarily “the deciding vote.” That was certainly true last night, when the Senate tried to extend unemployment benefits, and needed 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. They came up one short, and 1.3 million jobless Americans will lose their benefits as a consequence.

When was the last time Congress allowed benefits to expire with unemployment rates this high? It’s simply never happened.

And while each of the 38 senators who refused to allow the chamber to vote on the bill bears some of the responsibility for this, there’s a special burden on Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) — he was the only Democrat to betray the party (and the unemployed) on this vote, and he’s supposed to know better. Indeed, with two Republicans voting with the Democratic majority, Nelson’s vote put him to the right of some GOP senators.

Nelson could have voted against the bill, but instead he backed a GOP filibuster. What is he thinking? Here’s a statement from the senator’s office:

“The bill has been revised several times already and each time the deficit spending was less. Tough choices are possible and necessary to not add to the deficit,” Nelson said. “Some also say we need more emergency spending now to keep the recovery going. But in my view it could jeopardize the recovery and would add to our already enormous deficit, likely to be around $1.4 trillion for the second year in a row.”

This is simply incoherent. Nelson talks of “tough choices,” but chooses to emphasize the deficit over the economy. He also neglects to mention that he’s supported emergency funding for the jobless before, but is reversing course at a critically important time with a fragile economy.

But when Nelson says emergency spending “could jeopardize the recovery,” it sounds an awful lot like gibberish. The conservative Nebraskan has been deeply confused about this before, and his ongoing desire to emphasize the deficit over the economy is ridiculous. We’ve come to expect such nonsense from Republicans — the ones who got us into this mess, and who created the enormous deficit in the first place — but Nelson is supposed to know better.

Even if we take the senator’s statement at face value, it suggests Nelson should vote against extended unemployment benefits. It doesn’t explain, though, why he feels compelled to back a Republican filibuster. If he’s against the extension, fine, he can oppose it. But Ben Nelson is saying that jobless Americans have to suffer because he won’t even let the bill come to the floor for a vote.

It’s just indefensible.