Today, the Senate passed a $15 billion jobs bill (with the help of a group of Republicans who voted for the measure after voting to filibuster it two nights ago), so the upper chamber is now set to move onto other economic measures, including a much-needed extension of unemployment benefits.
The stimulus package passed last year ensured unemployment benefits through the end of 2009, which Congress then extended through the end of this month. But 1.1 million workers are now scheduled to lose their benefits in March, and with the deadline looming some states are already sending letters informing the recipients that they are at the end of the line.
So all the signs point toward expedience in addressing this problem, and Reid is reportedly pursuing a one-year extension so that this same scenario doesn’t arise again in a few months. But it’s unclear whether or not the Republicans are going to lend the effort any support, with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) saying that the GOP is “concerned about the high cost” of any extension.
With that in mind, it’s worth remembering how Senate Republicans responded the last time that an extension was needed. Not only did they repeatedly block the measure from even coming to the Senate floor for weeks on end, but they also attempted to attach all manner of unrelated items to the bill, including provisions related to ACORN and immigration. To top it all off, when the final vote on extending benefits finally came, the measure passed 98-0.
Earlier this month, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocked a simple stop-gap extension that would have moved the expiration of benefits back a week because he was upset at Reid for discarding a jobs bill that Sens. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had negotiated.
“It doesn’t represent what this Senate ought to be about and for goodness’ sakes, it doesn’t represent the kind of bipartisanship that was always behind voting for unemployment benefits,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), regarding the GOP’s actions. “This Republican obstruction, when it comes to something this basic, is fundamentally unfair.”
“It is critical for Congress to extend these benefits through all of 2010,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of the National Employment Law Project. “Clearly, workers need continued support while our economy meets the tall order of creating of nearly 11 million jobs to bring employment back to prerecession levels.” So will the GOP play politics with the extension again or let the non-controversial and necessary measure come to the floor?