Democrats Pick Up Snowe, But GOP Filibuster Of Unemployment Extension Stands

Democrats won the vote of Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine to pass an extension of unemployment benefits Wednesday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome obstruction by the remainder of the Senate GOP.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says Democrats will try again to break an ongoing Republican filibuster of unemployment extension legislation once a replacement is named for Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who died Monday. But that leaves more than 1 million jobless Americans in limbo at least until July 12, when lawmakers return to Washington after their July 4 recess.

Reid, along with Sen. Max Baucus, amended their legislation such that it only would have extended supplemental income benefits for jobless Americans and prolonged a federal homebuyer credit. They did so after Snowe sought a vote on a stand-alone bill to extend unemployment benefits.

Other Senate Republicans, along with conservative Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, prevented a vote on even that scaled-back bill, however.

“It is beyond disappointing that Republicans continue to stand almost lockstep against assistance for out-of-work Americans — especially since many of these same Republicans spent months protecting Wall Street and preserving tax cuts for CEOs who ship American jobs overseas,” Reid says in a statement released after losing the cloture vote. “We will vote on this measure again once there is a replacement named for the late Senator Byrd. In the meantime, I sincerely hope that Republicans will finally listen to the millions of unemployed Americans who need this assistance to support their families in these tough times. These Americans and millions more demand that Republicans stop filibustering support for unemployed workers.”

The amended legislation to extend unemployment insurance would provide benefits retroactively to those Americans whose benefits began expiring at the end of May. The amended bill would extend the unemployment insurance benefit through November.

Some 15 million Americans are out of work, and nearly half of those have been unemployed for six months or longer — a level of long-term joblessness not seen since World War II. A new report finds that even if the U.S. economy added 218,000 private-sector jobs each month from now on—the highest monthly payroll increase seen so far this year in the private sector—it would still take almost five years to make up the jobs lost since the recession began.

Reid and Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) joined Labor Secretary Hilda Solis at a press conference Wednesday prior to the loss of the cloture vote to call on Republicans to stop blocking unemployment benefits.

“As Secretary of Labor, I’ve traveled to places represented by both Democrats and Republicans. In every one of those town and cities, I’ve spoken with people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. They are in dire need of our help,” Solis says. “For many households with an unemployed worker, unemployment insurance is the only thing that allows them to keep paying the bills and supporting their families as they look for new employment. These Americans are counting on their leaders to stand with them. The clock is ticking, and partisanship must be put aside.”

Temporarily extending unemployment benefits will help keep families out of bankruptcy and foreclosure. It boosts every state’s economy across the nation, Reed says.

“Rhode Island receives around $30 million per month in federally-funded unemployment insurance benefits, creating roughly $57 million in local economic activity. Cutting that money off has and will continue to hurt communities and businesses,” he says. “The federal government has never before declined to extend unemployment benefits as long as the unemployment rate was at least 7.4 percent nationally, and today it still hovers near double digits. We simply cannot afford to cut off this modest support to those who have been hit hardest by the financial crisis. I am hopeful that at least a handful of Republicans will step up and join us in setting politics aside to do the responsible thing and extend unemployment insurance.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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