Senate Democratic leaders are excited about tackling extended unemployment benefits as soon as the chamber returns to work on Monday. President Obama and the rest of the White House are lobbying aggressively on the issue. Even Hillary Clinton is urging Congress to act.
But the odds are clearly against it. In the Senate, a majority of the chamber appears to support a temporary extension, but that’s not enough to overcome a Republican filibuster. Consider what the lead Democratic Senate sponsor told Greg Sargent:
“It’s not determined yet, but we’re going to do everything we can,” Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island said in an interview. “Hanging in the balance is probably the right way to say it.” […]Asked whether he had lined up any other Republican Senators to support it, Reed declined to answer directly. “We’re getting people sincerely saying they’re thinking very seriously about this,” Reed said about his GOP colleagues.
To overcome obstructionism, the bill will need at least five Republican supporters. As of this afternoon, it has one (Nevada’s Dean Heller).
And even if the votes come together in the upper chamber, there’s little evidence the Republican-led House would even consider the idea.
In an interview with The Huffington Post on Friday morning, the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), acknowledged that it would be a steep hurdle to get a bill restoring the benefits through the House at this point. He accused Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) of not negotiating in good faith, noting that he and Levin had met Boehner’s demand and presented a deficit-neutral bill, but the speaker never discussed the bill’s merits with them.And so, Van Hollen conceded, the best hope for passage would be for the Senate to move legislation first, increasing pressure on the lower chamber to act.
When benefits lapsed last weekend, it was like a punch to the gut to 1.3 million jobless Americans. Next week, lawmakers will make matters slightly worse, almost literally adding insult to injury.
Update: By one economist’s estimate, the lapse in benefits will cost the U.S. economy roughly $1 billion a week this year. This is on top of the 300,000 lost jobs. For all the optimism about the economy finally getting back on track, congressional Republicans appear to have embraced one of the most efficient ways possible to make matters worse.