I hope the Democrats enjoyed their week off more than did the millions of jobless Americans who are losing their unemployment benefits.
Two weeks ago, congressional Democrats were berating Republicans, who have been blocking legislation that would extend those benefits.
Leading Democrats rightly described the lapse in benefits as an “emergency,” given that out-of-work Americans are relying on their unemployment insurance to at least attempt to keep their heads above water while searching for a new job.
Democrats rightly called Republicans out for their hard-hearted obstruction. More than 3 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance by the end of July unless Congress approves a crucial extension.
But, then, whoops, the clock struck midnight and everyone in Congress — Democrat and Republican alike — just high-tailed it out out of town. So much for that unemployment “emergency.”
Instead of folding and sending everyone home for the July 4 recess, Majority Leader Harry Reid could have kept the Senate in session, day and night, forcing Republicans to remain in Washington to defend their filibuster.
Reid had already forced Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to cave and join Democrats in extending unemployment benefits. Had he kept the Senate at it through the holiday, he would have become a working-class hero working tirelessly to break Republicans further.
Instead, Reid scurried like the rest of the congressional mice and went back to Nevada to try out some of his latest focus-group-tested zingers against Tea Party opponent Sharron Angle.
I guess the only real unemployment they care about on Capitol Hill is their own.
While Reid and his colleagues were home last week, enjoying July 4th parades, local barbecues, and the hurly-burly of the campaign trail, the minds of the nation’s jobless were elsewhere.
Let’s just say they just weren’t feeling quite as festive.
Take, for instance, a construction management professional in Kentucky, laid off in 2008, and identified only as “J.S.”
He lost his or her unemployment benefits in June, and, well, given that his or her utilities will be shut off by July 15th, I think J.S. can be forgiven for skipping the fireworks this year.
‘I Probably Won’t Last Long Here’
M.I., a telecommunications/project management professional from Texas, also spent the July 4 holiday with a deepening sense of foreboding.
“I received my last check under Tier I extended benefits on June 16. I am fortunate in that I rent my house from mother, so I won’t be evicted immediately, but the electricity, phone, and water will probably all be shut off by the second week of July. I’m trying to be positive and think of it like camping, but no A/C in Dallas in July isn’t very fun, and I have asthma, so I probably won’t last long here.”
Not too much to celebrate there.
And don’t blame either one for their state. Both report applying to hundreds of jobs, with no avail. But 9.5 percent unemployment means there are an average of five folks in line for each opening, so there just aren’t enough jobs to go around even for the most hard-working, talented workers out there.
These folks clearly have so little hope left. At least the Republicans are honest about not caring a bit for them. But after weeks of talk and promising to fight for them, it was the Democrats who took off and left them with even less hope.
Congress comes back to work on Monday. I’m sure J.S., M.I., and millions of others wish they could say the same thing.
The publisher of On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered government and Washington for more than a decade. Capitol Idea is his regular column from Washington. The article was first published as “In The Senate, Republicans Block But The Democrats Just Run,” on Blogcritics.org.