Over one million Americans lost their unemployment insurance last month because Congress failed to reauthorize the program during budget deal negotiations. Democrats are working on a push to reinstate unemployment insurance for 1.3 million people, but the GOP remains stubborn in their opposition to the program.
Senate Republicans have threatened to filibuster a proposed three-month extension designed to hold over the unemployed while Congress deliberates a long-term deal. Filibusters were once reserved as a last resort measure for only the most important of issues, but the GOP has lately wielded it frivolously.
Senate Democrats will need 60 votes to kill the filibuster, a difficult task as there are 55 Senate Democrats and stances will likely remain on tight party lines. Only one Republican has announced support for the program extension, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), as he and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) drafted the proposal for the extension. Their respective states have unemployment rates of nine percent, the highest in the nation.
“On a human level, many of these people are desperate,” said Reed. “It is the difference between being able to pay their mortgage or not. Many of these are people who have worked for decades. They had good jobs, and they’ve been sending out thousands of résumés, but they’re in a job market that is terrible.”
The Washington Post reported that the $6.5 billion proposal will reach a procedural vote this evening, provided that Senate Republicans don’t follow through with their threatened filibuster. The prospect of a Senate GOP filibuster is counter-intuitive considering most states with the highest unemployment are those with Republican-controlledlegislatures.
Republican-controlled states, Michigan, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky, all have unemployment rates over eight percent. Although a pipedream, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky, would do well to consider the program’s reinstatement and to advise his cohorts to do similar. This issue could be the first major blow to the GOP in this midterm election year.
“If Republicans block this renewal, I think that it will have an effect and hurt their chances in the 2014 elections,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) aggressively called upon Congressional Republicans to “stop being themselves” and help reinstate unemployment insurance. It’s mainly GOP lawmakers that oppose the programs reinstatement, rather than Republicans in general. In fact, 55 percent of American support the program’s extension.
“This is typical for Republican members of Congress. Not Republicans. Republican members of Congress,” said Reid. “I have nothing against rich people. But the rich are getting richer. The poor are getting poorer. The middle class is being squeezed out of existence.”
According to Harvard economist Lawrence Katz, the suspension of unemployment benefits has cost the country $1 billion a week. Individually, recipients have lost on average $305 in benefits a week. If the suspension continues, five million unemployed Americans could lose their unemployment benefits by the end of this year.
Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.