While two million people have run out of unemployment benefits, the Senate Republicans are insisting they're just protecting us from deficit spending by obstructing another extension. They weren't worried about deficit spending when Bush wanted massive tax cuts, and they weren't worried when Bush started two wars. But while 25 million people are unemployed with many of them clinging to their unemployment checks just to survive, Republicans are playing partisan games.
Will one brave Republican stand up for those hit hardest by this recession?
Congress is poised for another partisan showdown over extending unemployment insurance, as concerns about the growing budget deficit have complicated the path forward for an otherwise popular program.
On its first day back in session following a two-week recess, the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on whether to end debate on a measure extending jobless benefits, subsidies for the COBRA health insurance program and federal flood insurance through May 5. Democrats will need at least one Republican supporter to get the 60 votes necessary to proceed.
The Senate failed to agree on the bill in late March, after Republicans rejected an attempt to expedite the measure's passage. Because of the impasse, beginning April 5 more than 200,000 unemployed people who had already exhausted their states' jobless benefits could not apply for additional benefits from the federal program, according to estimates by the National Employment Law Project, a liberal advocacy group.
Each party has been eager to blame the other for the cutoff.
Democrats point out that they easily moved an extension through the House and were primed to do the same in the Senate before Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), stood in the way.
"The fact is, an extension to help American families was passed unanimously in the House before it was blocked by a handful of Senate Republicans," said Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The only point some Senate Republicans have succeeded in making is that they are out of touch with the harsh reality that some families all across America are facing today."
Republicans respond that they're not opposed to extending unemployment benefits but want to offset the $9 billion cost with spending cuts elsewhere.
"We both want to extend unemployment benefits," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the GOP's No. 3 leader. "The Democrats want to do it by adding to the debt. Republicans don't want to add to the debt."