Senate Democrats could do little more than kick up a fuss Thursday as Republicans once again joined to block a vote on a jobs and tax bill that also would extend needed unemployment benefits to jobless Americans.
Democratic failure to overcome a GOP filibuster of the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act means hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans will begin losing the supplemental income benefits they rely on as they continue to seek work in the current dismal economy.
“This is the eighth week since March we have tried to find a resolution. We have gone back and forth countless times, considering ideas, compromising where necessary and courting support,” Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says. “We tried to bring it to the floor, but the minority said no. Once we finally succeeded in bringing it here to the floor, we tried to bring it to a vote. Again, the minority said no. Somewhere along the line, throughout these charades, this job-creating, tax-cutting, loophole-closing bill has become a political football. The debate has focused more on winning and losing than on doing what’s right.”
Since the January election of Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Senate Democrats have held 59 seats, one shy of the supermajority required to break GOP obstruction.
Unless Democrats somehow can change the mind of at least one Republican in a matter of just days, more than 1 million jobless Americans will have lost their unemployment benefits, a number that only will grow each month unless Congress approves an extension. And the bill is not listed on the Senate calendar to be brought up again by the start of July.
“It’s a pretty grim picture for these people,” Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) told the International Business Times. “The states have done away with emergency assistance programs. They can still qualify for food stamps, but that’s a limited amount and only covers food. There are some rental assistance programs, but they are small with long waiting lists. Most of these people are just going to hit a wall.”
Reid was just one in a line of Democrats who could say only that Republicans will have to answer for the obstruction that will leave a growing number of Americans in dire financial circumstances.
“I am deeply disappointed that Republicans continue to block this good bill. Unemployment in Nevada has climbed to the highest in the nation, and Nevadans need our help to create jobs and make ends meet while they look for work,” Reid says in a statement released after the defeat. “On top of that, difficult budget decisions at the state level are leaving our teachers, firefighters and policeman vulnerable to layoffs. This bill would go a long way to addressing these challenges in a fiscally-responsible way.
“Democrats have given Republicans every chance to say ‘yes’ to this bill and support economic recovery for our middle class,” the majority leader adds. “But they made a choice to say ‘no’ yet again and now they owe the American people an explanation for why they refuse to do anything to help those hurt by their failed policies.”
Democratic frustration was felt not only within the walls of the Senate chamber.
Across the Capitol, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) bemoaned the filibuster, and called out Republicans for fiscal hypocracy.
EPI, the Washington-based policy center, argues that not only would an extension of unemployment benefits assist the jobless who depend upon them, but cites a study that finds such benefits are the best form of economic stimulus.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.