Senate Has Chance For Partial Redemption On Jobs

Isaiah J. Poole

It appears that the Senate, which shamed itself last week by refusing to take action on a jobs and tax fairness bill, will have an opportunity to redeem itself somewhat with a vote on extended unemployment benefits.

The House attempted to pass by voice vote this afternoon a bill by Reps. Sander M. Levin, D-Mich., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., that would restore the unemployment benefit program that died last week in a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate. House Republicans blocked voice-vote passage, and so House Democratic leaders are working to get the bill passed by a roll call vote Wednesday.

These benefits, which kick in after unemployed workers exhaust their standard 26 weeks of benefits, are a lifeline that 1.7 million workers will lose by the end of this week if Congress does not act. By the end of July, that number would exceed 3 million. And, again, it is the Senate, not the House, that’s the problem. The Hill reports:

Republicans in the Senate have repeatedly blocked such legislation in that chamber, arguing the nation’s budget deficit and debt demand all spending be offset with other spending cuts. … On Friday, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said she would support an extension to unemployment benefits even if they are not offset. … Still, even if Snowe votes yes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will need at least one other Republican if Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nev.) continues to oppose the extension because it is not offset.

The showdown in the Senate comes on a week of action to hold obstructionists in the Senate accountable for their refusal to act responsibly on jobs. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees plans to bombard Senate offices with thousands of letters from unemployed workers. A sample letter says that the Senate’s “refusal to vote for funding to keep teachers, police officers and other workers on the job, and of protect elderly residents from being tossed out of nursing homes is outrageous. [The senators say] it’s the deficit. But the economists have all told them that the best thing they can do for the deficit is to protect jobs now and make sure we keep the economic recovery going.”

The insistence that for every dollar of stimulus that is placed into the economy, another dollar must be taken away—except when it comes to tax benefits for the wealthy or for the war in Afghanistan—is nonsensical, but Senate conservatives doggedly cling to this debilitating belief.

What the organizations working on the Jobs for America Now coalition would want is for the Senate to not just pass an unemployment extension bill but, at a minimum, the bill that was filibustered last week, which would also fund summer jobs programs and help prevent the layoffs of state and local employees. We say “at a minimum” because this legislation was severely weakened in a vain attempt to attract conservative Democratic and Republican votes.

The minimum of what’s really needed is the Local Jobs for America Act, which includes spending on actual job creation. We just take the offensive on job creation. That will become abundantly clear if the Labor Department’s monthly job report shows, as some economists expect, that the economy has begun to shed private sector jobs again after a short spurt of net job creation.

But the least the Senate can do, before it goes on recess, is to not cut what little ground is left out from under upwards of 2 million Americans who want to work—and face an economy that still has no room for them.

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