With 12 Democrats joining a unanimous Republican bloc, the US Senate voted Wednesday to defeat a proposed extension of unemployment benefits for workers who have been jobless for nearly two years. The bill would have extended unemployment benefits for those out of work more than six months, until November 30.
In the two and a half weeks since June 1, when the last extension expired, some 903,000 workers have seen their benefits cut off. By June 26, that number will top 1.2 million.
Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported that the number of new claims for unemployment compensation jumped to 472,000 last week, the highest figure in several months.
The result is that a Congress that rushed through a $700 billion bailout of Wall Street in October 2008 in a matter of days, and authorized a further financial windfall to the banks and speculators five months later, cannot bring itself to support even the most meager subsistence for the unemployed workers who are the victims, not the perpetrators, of the economic crisis.
The vote was taken under Senate rules, not to pass the legislation itself, but to "waive budgetary discipline" and allow passage by a simple majority rather than 60 votes out of 100. The result was 45 in favor and 52 against, with three senators absent. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had already abandoned an effort to adopt a cloture motion, closing debate, for lack of the necessary 60 votes. Three months ago a similar extension bill passed the Senate easily.
The unemployment extension is part of a larger bill that includes additional aid to state governments to cover Medicaid, the healthcare program for the poor, and to offset a potential 21 percent cut in reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients.
The House of Representatives passed a version of the bill May 28 costing $113 billion, but without the Medicaid assistance to the states. The Senate version includes the Medicaid support, and costs a total of $140 billion, which sparked the unanimous no vote of the Republicans, as well as the opposition of the 12 Democrats, mainly conservatives, but including liberals like Russ Feingold of Wisconsin.
According to press reports, leading Senate Democrats are seeking to win votes from the bill's opponents by eliminating a $25 a week increase in jobless benefits that was part of the 2009 stimulus package. In other words, either all 10 million jobless workers would see a $25 cut in benefits, from checks averaging $309 a week, or benefits for the 5.7 million long-term unemployed would be cut off completely. Either way, those deprived of work by the economic crisis of capitalism, the most vulnerable section of the working class, will be made to pay.
One of the dozen right-wing Democrats who voted against the bill, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, reiterated his opposition to Capitol Hill reporters. He cited concerns about the federal deficit, after rejecting a new version of the bill that would cost $20 billion less.
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