Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post:
The Senate rejected Wednesday — for the fourth time — a bill that would have reauthorized extended benefits for the long-term unemployed, by a vote of 58 to 38. Democrats will not make another effort to break the Republican filibuster before adjourning for the July 4 recess.
By the time lawmakers return to Washington, more than 2 million people who’ve been out of work for longer than six months will have missed checks they would have received if they’d been laid off closer to the beginning of the recession.
Brian Beutler at Talking Points Memo:
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) last night prevented his fellow Democrats from finally passing legislation to extend needed unemployment insurance benefits to out of work Americans. It was the third time the legislation, which has been repeatedly pared down and reshaped in the hunt for votes, has failed to overcome a filibuster. But it was the first time that success or failure rested on a single deciding vote. And because Nelson, the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, joined Republicans and blocked the bill, it will likely not pass until mid-July, after the Senate returns from Independence Day recess. By then Robert Byrd’s replacement will be seated, and Dems will have the votes they need to pass their jobs bill.
Here’s what happened.
The Senate was by all accounts done for the day, and any further attempts to extend unemployment insurance would have to wait another day. But at about 8 pm, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to give it one more shot and called the vote, which had to be held open to allow Senators caught unaware to reach the chamber. When it was all said and done, the final vote was 58-38 with three Republicans not voting.
Of course, it requires 60 votes to break a filibuster, meaning Democrats were two votes shy. So why does this fall on Ben Nelson? When a cloture vote fails, the Majority Leader often switches his vote from yes to no. But he’s not joining the filibuster. It’s a parliamentary maneuver that allows him to bring the issue back to the floor easily at a later time, without having to go through the longer process of filing for cloture again.
That’s what happened last night. With the death of Robert Byrd, Democrats have 58 voting members. Last night, they were joined by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). That would have brought them to 60, breaking the filibuster…but Nelson said no. He’s opposed the legislation repeatedly on the grounds that it’s not completely paid for (though emergency extensions of unemployment benefits are often not paid for). He brought Democrats down to 59 votes — one short of the supermajority they needed — and because of that, Reid changed his vote, drawing the total down to 58.
A day earlier, Nelson released a long statement explaining his repeated opposition to the bill.
Here’s a statement from the senator’s office:
“The bill has been revised several times already and each time the deficit spending was less. Tough choices are possible and necessary to not add to the deficit,” Nelson said. “Some also say we need more emergency spending now to keep the recovery going. But in my view it could jeopardize the recovery and would add to our already enormous deficit, likely to be around $1.4 trillion for the second year in a row.”
This is simply incoherent. Nelson talks of “tough choices,” but chooses to emphasize the deficit over the economy. He also neglects to mention that he’s supported emergency funding for the jobless before, but is reversing course at a critically important time with a fragile economy.
But when Nelson says emergency spending “could jeopardize the recovery,” it sounds an awful lot like gibberish. The conservative Nebraskan has been deeply confused about this before, and his ongoing desire to emphasize the deficit over the economy is ridiculous. We’ve come to expect such nonsense from Republicans — the ones who got us into this mess, and who created the enormous deficit in the first place — but Nelson is supposed to know better.
Even if we take the senator’s statement at face value, it suggests Nelson should vote against extended unemployment benefits. It doesn’t explain, though, why he feels compelled to back a Republican filibuster. If he’s against the extension, fine, he can oppose it. But Ben Nelson is saying that jobless Americans have to suffer because he won’t even let the bill come to the floor for a vote.
It’s just indefensible.
Meredith Jessup at Townhall:
The GOP has, on numerous occasions, said they would vote on a stand-alone measure to extend unemployment benefits. The Republicans also suggested–gasp!–that ol’ Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi loosen up some of the 40 % of stimulus funds that have gone unspent to help the underemployed.
Neither of these scenarios were acceptable to Dems who wanted to load the measure up with lots of other items in a pathetic attempt to get the GOP on record as being “against assistance for out-of-work Americans.” Democrats need all this kind of help they can get for November’s elections and the AP seems more than willing to oblige.
And it’s not just the failure to extend the unemployment benefits, it’s the reasoning behind it. There is the Rand Paul/Sharron Angle “tough love” prescription, of course, which I suspect is far more common than people will admit. (I have actually heard several conversations about somebody’s “lazy uncle” who refuses to take a job that he thinks is “beneath him.”) And then there’s the projected deficit, which throughout the Bush years of unnecessary wars, tax cuts and giveaways to their rich contributors these people said not a word, being used as an excuse to destroy the safety net. I’m hard pressed to think of a more cynical move, although the Iraq war was a helluva test run for how you can convince people not to believe their lying eyes, so perhaps this is a natural next step.
I’m guessing some of it has to do with wealth inequality and the resulting distance between the haves and have nots in everyday society. When the people who do your nails and bag your groceries and bus your table aren’t fully visible in your busy world of IPods and Blackberries, perhaps you begin to think of them as pets who need training or children who require discipline. I don’t know. But something has gone terribly wrong and decent people had better wake up and realize that this radical, nihilistic right wing ideology that calls itself “conservatism” is now in the process of bringing the cruelty of its racist past into the 21st century and applying it to the entire middle and working class of this country.
UPDATE: Paul Krugman at The New York Times
William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection