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.