Before Congress ajourned for recess, the U.S. Senate failed to extend unemployment benefits for millions of Americans due to a united filibuster by Republican senators joined by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson (NE).
Despite the fact that the unemployment rate is at a high 9.5 percent and that the benefits are the only source of income for many of those unable to find work, conservatives have demanded that spending on the benefits be offset before they vote for them (a demand they do not make for tax breaks for mulitmillionaires). In a statement explaining his decision to join conservatives to filibuster the extension, Nelson cited the relatively tiny deficit impact of extending them:
“Recently, Nebraska state officials estimated that our unemployment had improved slightly and was down to 4.9 percent. I am very sympathetic to the many Nebraskans who remain out of work and recognize that the federal government should extend unemployment benefits to help them. Before the vote last week on the tax extenders bill, which provided unemployment benefits, I informed Senate leadership that I was willing to vote for new spending as long as it is paid for. I believe this can be done and that the votes are there to pass it. The bill has been revised several times already and each time the deficit spending was less. Tough choices are possible and necessary to not add to the deficit. […] So, Congress should provide additional unemployment benefits but not as a bailout to the states that worsens the deficit and passes the bills onto our children.”
Yet today, the Washington Post reveals a new poll that finds that the overwhelming majority of Americans support extending unemployment benefits, even in the face of concerns of opponents who say it “adds too much to the federal budget deficit”:
The poll also finds that 57 percent of self-identified “moderate or liberal” Republicans support extending benefits. If Congress fails to extend benefits, it will — by the end of the week — “bring the total number of long-term unemployed prematurely cut off from aid to 2.5 million.” Considering the public’s views on the issue, Nelson should reconsider his stance.