After an afternoon of long-winded speeches from both sides of the aisle, the Senate voted to move forward with the extension of unemployment benefits. The vote comes after the Senate failed to pass an extension before going on break more than two weeks ago. In that time, more than 200,000 people were pushed off of unemployment benefits.
Four Republicans broke with their party and voted to move forward with the final passage of an extension. Several more procedural hurdles remain and a final extension is likely to be voted on Thursday. Republicans could still block passage though procedural challenges. If the Senate fails to act though, another 200,000 will lose benefits next week.
Several Republican Senators held up the benefit extension before the Congressional recess, arguing that the Senate should find ways to pay for it without adding to the deficit. Democrats insist that the extensions should be paid for on an emergency basis and should therefore be exempt from pay-as-you-go rules. They’ve also argued that unemployment insurance acts as a boon to the economy.
Yesterday’s vote is an important step, however the one-month extension essentially sets Congress up for another round of the same debate next month.
Congress has now extended unemployment insurance this way five times, and this is the second month of Republican challenges. Though both houses have passed bills to extend the program through the end of the year, the spending measures have yet to be reconciled because of debates over how to pay for the program. In the meantime, unemployed Americans rely on precarious monthly extensions.
There’s no reason to think that Republicans will act any differently next month. The Senate’s ideological games are taking their toll as long term unemployment remains at record levels and racial disparities in jobless rates ravage communities.
UPDATE: By the way, the four Republican seantors who voted to extend benefits are, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine.
Photo credit: swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger.