Hickory Dickory Dock, the Republicans run out the clock. Thus did 800,000 jobless Americans lose their extended unemployment compensation benefits Tuesday. That means their final check comes next week. Without action by Congress, another 1.2 million could lose their benefits by the end of December. With the standalone bill defeated, as expected, Democratic leaders say they'll try again, which most probably means attaching the extension to some other legislation, possibly the extension of tax cuts.
In a rambling speech in which he appealed to the Senate gallery twice, Sen. Scott Brown chided the Democrats for spending too much time on food safety instead of negotiating with Republicans earlier this month to get a mutually agreeable extension passed. From the GOP perspective (and that of some conservative Democrats), such an agreement would require finding an offset, that is, taking funds from other federal programs to cover the $56.4 billion cost of the 13-month-long benefits extension introduced by Sen. Max Baucus Monday night. That's despite the fact that always in the past when unemployment benefits have been extended, it's been an emergency measure that doesn't require offsets.
As Baucus wrote:
“For the past six decades, Congress has provided federally funded unemployment insurance benefits during every recession. Further, federal unemployment insurance benefits have always been provided until the economy was on a stable path of growth. In fact, the highest unemployment rate at which federally funded unemployment benefits were not extended was 7.2 percent."
"And now here we are again." That was Sen. Jack Reed on the Senate floor today lamenting his Republican colleagues' latest effort to put a stick in the spokes of the effort to renew the benefits extension. "Again," because last summer, when the extension was renewed, it took 50 days before Republican intransigence in the form of a filibuster could be overcome. While the extension was retroactive when it finally passed, the interruption in checks put the squeeze on out-of-work Americans living on an average of $290-a-week in benefit checks. Many Democrats at the time wanted to pass an extension longer than the four months to avoid being exactly where things wound up today, with an expiring benefits extension hostage to the whims of right-wing ideologues in Congress.
The failure to pass an extension may make the scene at various unemployment offices quite interesting for the next few days or weeks.
About the best that can be hoped now is that the Democratic leadership will find a way to finagle another short-term renewal of three to six months by cobbling together a compromise that requires extending the Bush era tax cuts. Otherwise, Democrats run the risk of nothing being done to extend benefits until January when the Republicans take over the House of Representatives and make everything that matters a no-go for 24 months.
As for the tax-cut extension, you have to give Republicans credit. No matter how ridiculous a stance they take, they stick with it. Sen. Brown argued today that the cuts have nothing to do with the extension of unemployment benefits. And that might be true if so many Republicans weren't arguing that extending tax cuts for the wealthy don't need to be paid for but the jobless benefits extension does. Today, Rep. John Shadegg of Arizona joined that crowd while arguing that unemployment benefits don't boost the economy:
BARNICLE: What about the fact that unemployment benefits pumped into the economy are an immediate benefit to the economy? Immediate…
SHADEGG: No, they’re not! Unemployed people hire people? Really? I didn’t know that.
BARNICLE: Unemployed people spend money Congressman, ’cause they have no money.
SHADEGG: Aha! So your answer is it’s the spending of money that drives the economy and I don’t think that’s right. It’s the creation of jobs that drives the economy…Actually, the truth is the unemployed will spend as little of that money as they possibly can. Job creators create jobs.
If the unemployment extension continues to be blocked, economists say it could cost the economy up to $5 billion. In the short run, that means putting the chop on holiday spending. In the longer run, a million more people could lose their jobs, with hundreds of thousands of them winding up impoverished, homeless and getting many of their meals from soup kitchens. For a lot of Senators today, none of that makes a damn bit of difference.