I was not totally surprised that Senate Democrats could not muster one additional vote to advance the 3-month extension of unemployment benefits - but I am sickened by it. Republicans seem to think that people are content to sit on their butts collecting unemployment benefits - for the vast majority of our nation's unemployed, that is simply not true - and highly insulting. Read below the fold for my analysis...
There is no other explanation for why Republicans are continuing to the block the extension bill. Their arguments about "paying for" the extension are completely disingenuous. Economists will tell you that emergency unemployment benefits should not be paid for at all - paying for them will diminish the stimulus effect that such aid brings to the economy. And their argument about objecting to the bill on procedural grounds is not just inaccurate - it's downright insulting to anybody with a brain. Holding up extended unemployment benefits to 1.7 million Americans on such grounds is as callous as you can get. If Republicans were truly holding up the unemployment extension bill over procedural objections, why not hold up passage of the farm bill too (which passed the Senate earlier this week)?
Reid has three options here:
1. Continue to bring up the amended 3-month (paid-for) extension for a vote, preferably every 1 or 2 days. This might violate Reid's deep and abiding respect for Senate tradition and comity, but I don't think that 1.7 million Americans who are losing their critical lifeline really care about Senate tradition right now. Also, headlines across the country read "Senate Blocks Unemployment Aid" - not "Senate Republicans Block Unemployment Aid". The subtle difference here is very important to Senate Democrats hoping to hold on to their seats and a Democratic Party trying to hold onto that chamber following the 2014 midterms. Inaction on this bill is being pinned (at least subconsciously) on the Senate as a whole, not on Senate Republicans.
2. Continue to bring up the current unemployment extension bill with a different amendment that would extend the unemployment programs for a full year, without a pay-for. This is probably where things are headed considering that we are already in February. Extending the unemployment programs for only three months at this point would be very impractical and would require the Senate to revisit this issue starting in about 2 weeks to get the programs authorized for the last 3 quarters of the year. The amendment would not have a pay-for as extending the program for a year with a pay-for could not be done absent spending cuts elsewhere - which is a non-starter for Democrats.
3. Attach a year-long extension of the federal unemployment programs to the debt ceiling bill circulating through the House. It is apparent that Boehner will not be able to get all of his caucus behind a clean debt-ceiling increase, requiring the cooperation of at least some of the Democratic caucus, the majority of whom are even more upset about the lack of an unemployment extension than are Senate Democrats. Attaching a year-long extension to the debt ceiling bill would allow Boehner to save face with his caucus - "The Democrats made me do it!".