Thursday, February 25, 2010

US Senate Republicans Blocking Unemployment Benefits Extension

This is reaching crisis stage now. If the Congress doesn't act soon, up to 500,000 Michigan citizens will lose their unemployment benefits by July. Image what happens when those folks start defaulting on their mortgages, or end up turning to the state for Medicaid and other assistance.

The US House passed an extension in the Jobs for Main Street Act back in December, and so far the Senate has not taken that up. They also stripped unemployment issue from the jobs bill that was passed earlier this week, which is starting to look like a huge mistake. Michigan officials are turning up the heat today; Rep. Mark Schauer introduced legislation that would extend the benefits through the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30th.

Today Congressman Mark Schauer (D-MI) introduced a bill to extend unemployment insurance benefits for workers through the end of September. If Congress doesn’t take action to extend jobless benefits by this Sunday, approximately 130,000 people in Michigan will exhaust their benefits next month, and another 150,000 people will see their benefits expire in April.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from Michigan families who are afraid that the last string on our social safety net is about to get cut because Congress can’t get its act together to pass an extension of unemployment benefits,” said Schauer. “I share their frustration, which is why I’m ready to do whatever it takes to make sure we get this done by the end of the week to prevent the loss of benefits for thousands of Michigan families. The last thing we can afford right now is to cut these families loose and pull money for basic necessities like gas and groceries out of our economy.”

Besides Congressman Schauer, Governor Granholm and the Michigan Senate Democrats are weighing in as well. Here's the Governor:

"I'm hopeful that the Senate will act either today or tomorrow," Granholm told reporters. Without the extension, "the implications for the safety net of Michigan are just horrific."

Michigan's Unemployment Insurance Agency sent out letters last week warning residents they could lose their unemployment checks starting next month. The state has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 14.6 percent.

"Without congressional action, some 500,000 unemployed Michigan workers will run out of unemployment benefits by July," UIA director Stephen Geskey warned.

You also had the panicked governors at the National Governor's Association Winter Meeting call for this to happen soon as well. Facing huge budget deficits that threaten to be an issue for the next few years, deficits that are causing cuts to critical state programs as it is, these guys can ill afford to have these benefits run out and have those citizens show up on their doorstep.

So with the call going out across the land from state officials and citizens alike, what's the big holdup? Do you really have to ask? US Senate Republicans are demanding more tax cuts for the rich in exchange for this legislation to be considered. From Think Progress:

Yesterday, I asked whether or not Senate Republicans would help expedite the process of extending unemployment benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month, since the last time that an extension was considered, the GOP blocked it for weeks with non-related amendments, before the bill ultimately passed by an overwhelming 98-0 vote.

Well, it seems like at least one Republican is not, in fact, going to ensure that unemployed workers keep their benefits without first trying to cut taxes for the heirs of multi-millionaires:

On Wednesday, a top Republican leader said a deal on the bill would depend on working out the fate of the expired estate tax…Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said that Republicans will block consideration of the new bill unless they get “a path forward fairly soon” on the estate tax.

“I will insist on an agreement on how to proceed [on the estate tax], if we’re going to have unanimous consent on how to proceed with any of these subsequent bills,” said Kyl.

Republican priorities, on display once again. When your benefits run out, you will know which party to thank.

UPDATE 2/26: Late last night, the US House passed a one month extension on benefits, but Senator Jim Bunning (R-Kentucky) blocked the effort in the upper chamber.

During the debate, Bunning stood rigidly at his desk in the back row of the Senate and objected to repeated Democrat attempts for agreement to extend unemployment coverage through April 5.

Bunning, who said he was determined to remain to thwart the Democrats, said, “I’ll be here as long as you are here.”

With Bunning's refusal to relent, Democrats will have to move to override his objections, but a vote probably cannot occur until early next week.