On Tuesday, the Senate failed to come to an agreement to pass an extension of unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work for six months or longer, with a potential agreement falling apart over procedural arguments.
Those benefits lapsed at the end of the year when Congress left for the holidays without renewing them, as it had 11 times since it was first enacted in June 2008. That meant 1.3 million people were cut off from a lifeline on December 28. The program extends benefits to those who max out their state-level program, usually around six months of being jobless. More than 4 million people have been out of work for that long and they make up 40 percent of all unemployed workers.
After a squabble over procedural moves, it looks unlikely that the Senate will come to an agreement this week, and it will be on recess next week for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Republicans had originally objected to the extension of the program because it wasn’t paid for. A plan was then offered up to pay for it, but Republicans also requested the chance to offer amendments. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he would allow each party to offer five amendments with a 60-vote threshold and that the final bill get a simple majority vote. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) objected to that plan and tried to table it, but the vote failed. Reid called for a vote on a year-long extension as well as a three-month extension, but neither were able to clear the 60-vote hurdle needed to overcome a filibuster.
Letting the benefits program languish doesn’t just cut off a vital source of income for millions. It also hurts the economy. Going without the benefits for just a week cost states $400 million. A failure to extend it will mean the loss of as many as 240,000 jobs and a decline in GDP growth of between 0.2 and 0.4 percentage points.
Even if an extension eventually clears the Senate, its future in the House is far from certain. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement during a previous vote to advance the Senate’s bill that indicated the House wouldn’t take up the bill unless it was paid for. Despite their current opposition, many Republicans have previously supported the program because of the requirement that participants look for work.