Senate Republicans have been using the filibuster to block the extension of long-term unemployment benefits. There are rumors of a "deal" that gives Republicans a payoff to stop obstructing the extension. The price this time is "pension smoothing," which means letting big companies skip paying into their employee pension plans.
Reuters has the story, in "U.S. senator, labor push to restore jobless benefits for 1.7 million":
The bill does not appear to have the 60 votes required to clear an anticipated procedural roadblock by Republicans in the 100-member Senate, according to Senate aides.
Translation: The "procedural roadblock" is called a filibuster.
Senate Republicans last month blocked an earlier version of a bill co-sponsored by Reid and Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada that would have extended jobless benefits for three months.
Translation: Last month Republicans filibustered the bill.
But, unlike the previous bill, the $6.4 billion cost of providing jobless benefits for an additional three months would be fully paid for and would not increase the record federal debt load, Reed said.
Reed explained that the costs would be offset by "pension smoothing," which, he explained, would allow companies to use historical data in determining pension contributions.
That, in turn, would increase revenues and result in additional taxes to pay for the jobless benefits.
Translation: The ransom Republicans are getting this time is that big companies will be allowed to skip payments into their employee pension plans. This means the companies will be extra-profitable, and will therefore pay more taxes. And note that this ransom only gets unemployment extended for three months. Three months later, Republicans can demand another ransom with millions of desperate people as hostage.
As far as ransoms go, this is about the best deal Democrats might get. Usually Republicans demand something that cruelly hurts millions of people right away. This time the ransom is to let companies get away with skipping payments into their pension plans so they can boost profits and executive bonuses, which will potentially hurt millions, but will hurt them later.
It's Republicans, Not "Congress"
Here's the thing to get out there: It's Republicans, not "Congress" blocking the unemployment extension. In January, Senate Republicans filibustered the extension of long-term unemployment benefits for what was then 1.3 million people. It is now hurting over 1.7 million people, and each week even more people lose their ability to pay their rent or mortgage, buy gas to look for work, even food in some cases. This in turn has a harmful effect on the rest of the economy. (And it doesn't even "save money" because many of these people are forced to turn to government assistance, such as food stamps.)
This is not about "Congress" not getting things done. This is not "Democrats failing to pass" this. This is obstruction. This is hostage-taking to extract a ransom for the 1 percent. This is one more effort to keep the continuing economic disaster of unemployment and slow growth going. This is economic sabotage.
This is obstruction with real consequences to real people. The number is increasing, currently at 1.7 million. But this is not the only act of cruelty, designed to hold the economy back.
Remember the "hunger cliff" just before Thanksgiving when Republicans forced a $5 billion cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance ("food stamp") Program? Millions more are now forced to go to food banks to get enough to make it through each month. This post from November told the story of food banks around the country being swamped. They are still swamped, and it is getting worse.
Hurting Businesses, Too
It isn't just the poor hurting from this continuing Republican economic sabotage. A recent New York Times story reported on how retailers are having trouble as the middle class disappears. From the story, "The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World":
As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.
If there is any doubt, the speed at which companies are adapting to the new consumer landscape serves as very convincing evidence. Within top consulting firms and among Wall Street analysts, the shift is being described with a frankness more often associated with left-wing academics than business experts.
“Those consumers who have capital like real estate and stocks and are in the top 20 percent are feeling pretty good,” said John G. Maxwell, head of the global retail and consumer practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Stores that cater to "the middle" are failing. They have to either try to sell to the top few, or reduce prices and costs and try to eke out a living selling to the rest of us who are increasingly "the poor." But these stores don't have the lobbying clout that Wall Street and the giant multinational corporations do, so ... too bad for them.
What You Can Do
Tell people that this is about Republicans obstructing and filibustering, not "Congress" and not "gridlock." This is obstruction, not disagreement. This is sabotage, not indecision.
Congress and government can work just fine if they are not obstructed. People do not like obstruction, and will vote out those who are blocking things the public needs. But if the public doesn't find out that filibusters and obstruction are going on, they can't do anything about it. Demand that the media use the word "filibuster" when Republicans filibuster. And tell people what is going on. Tell your friends. Tell your family. Tell people at work. Tell people you don't particularly like. Tell them that this is about a minority obstructing the will of the majority, about sabotaging and hurting people and the economy.