16 Senators From States With Double-Digit Jobless Rates Vote Against Extending Unemployment Benefits

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)

Today, the Senate passed a bill extending jobless benefits for the rest of the year by a 62-36 vote. Extending unemployment benefits following a recession like one the country just experienced should be a no-brainer, but as Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) and his supporters displayed last month, such a step is by no means a slam-dunk.

Throughout the course of the recession, the economy shed 8.4 million jobs, and there are currently six workers for every available job opening. The national unemployment rate is at 9.7 percent, and in many states it is much higher. 41.2 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for 27 weeks or more, which is the highest since 1948. Just to make up for the jobs lost during the recession (not accounting for population increases), the economy would have to produce 350,000 jobs per month for two full years.

Still, 36 senators saw fit to vote against extended benefits (as well as extending COBRA, which helps unemployed workers pay for health insurance). Here are the 16 senators from states with double-digit unemployment (according to the latest figures, released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) who voted against the bill:

Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby Alabama 11.1%
Sen. George LeMieux Florida 11.9%
Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson Georgia 10.4%
Sen. Dick Lugar Indiana 11.1%
Sens. Jim Bunning and Mitch McConnell Kentucky 10.7%
Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker Mississippi 10.9%
Sen. John Ensign Nevada 13.0%
Sen. Richard Burr North Carolina 11.1%
Sens. Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham South Carolina 12.6%
Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker Tennessee 10.7%

This vote is in line with a trend among conservatives in Congress, who have taken to displaying a callous disregard for the plight of the unemployed by continually claiming that unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for work. Rep. Dean Heller (R-NV), for instance, said that extending benefits is creating “hobos,” while Rep. Steve King (R-IA) said “we shouldn’t turn the ‘safety net’ into a hammock.” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who voted against the bill today, said benefits stunt job-seeking “because people are being paid even though they’re not working.”

Sens. Kit Bond (R-MO), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), George Voinivich (R-OH) and David Vitter (R-LA) joined all of the Democrats except Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) in voting for the measure. Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) did not vote. The Senate bill now has to be reconciled with a bill passed by the House last year. House Ways and Means Chairman Sandy Levin (D-MI) is reportedly considering pushing for a conference committee to work out the differences.