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Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois are drawing significant disapproval from voters over their refusal to extend emergency unemployment aid. According to new polling done for Americans United for Change by Public Policy Polling, a strong majority of voters want to see unemployment insurance extended for those jobless for six months or more:
More than 60% of voters in both states favor reinstating unemployment benefits. In Illinois 63% support it to only 31% who are opposed, and in Ohio 62% support it to just 35% in opposition. Reinstating benefits predictably has near total support from Democrats- 89% in Ohio and 83% in Illinois. But it also has a substantial amount of support across party lines- 44% of Republicans in Illinois and 41% in Ohio support it, a lot more bipartisan backing than we see for most issues these days.
What's more, voters are specifically unhappy with Portman and Kirk over their votes last week against an unemployment aid extension that fell just one vote short of overcoming a Republican filibuster: 51 percent of Ohio voters said they were less likely to vote for Portman because of his vote, and 40 percent of Illinois voters said they were less likely to vote for Kirk as a result. And no wonder, when you consider the real suffering their opposition is causing. Russ Holton, an Ohio Republican who once made $85,000 a year, calls it "probably an inevitability" that he will have to file for bankruptcy, having been out of work since being laid off last June:
"I just want someone to have a freaking heart," he said, referring to members of Congress. "They are going home to a house where all the utilities are paid for, and we are here struggling."
But having a freaking heart is not how congressional Republicans roll. The challenge is to make them pay a political cost for it.