C-Span probably had its highest share rating ever Thursday as people tuned in from around the nation to view the cloture vote (a procedural maneuver that allows a bill to move from debate to a final enactment vote) to see if the Senate would finally end the filibuster and enact legislation that would extend unemployment benefits until November. What they saw was the Senate fail to close the debate on the American Jobs and Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, which contains the vitally important unemployment extension provision that would provide $35.5 billion to extend unemployment benefits. The final Senate roll call vote: 57 – 41, with two abstentions. The Republican-led filibuster was still in effect.
The two parties immediately began blaming the other for the bill’s failure to pass. The Republicans repeated the same mantra they’ve reiterated for months — that the Democrats were increasing the deficit and increasing taxes. The Democrats accused the Republicans of paying lip service to curtailing a deficit they helped create in the past decade and offering nothing but an alternate plan containing tax breaks.
At the same time, there was talk that the so-called “Tax Extenders Bill” could be shelved until after the Senate recess. Senator Kent Conrad (R-ND) told the Washington Post, “People are in the mood of letting the dust settle before finding the next step.”
By “people” Conrad meant the senators, who have been working on the bill for months and debating it since it was introduced at the beginning of May. But there are “people” outside the Senate whose day-to-day lives depend on a weekly unemployment benefits check and who find that waiting and “letting the dust settle” could cost them houses, loans, vehicles, life savings.
If the Senate were to recess without passing legislation for the extension of unemployment benefits, those that the bill would have helped retroactively (those that became ineligible for benefits at the beginning of June) and those that are scheduled to lose their eligibility by mid-July number over two million. Those two million unemployed do not include others that have already reached the limits of their eligibility.
According to U. S. Department of Labor statistics, there are at present an estimated 15 million Americans out of work. Some believe the estimate to be ridiculously low. Still, of the 15 million approximately two-thirds receive unemployment benefits.
Many are wondering if the Senate will actually take a recess with so many unemployed and their families depending on the passage of the extension benefits bill. Anger at the Senate’s seeming nonchalance or, in the case of anger directed at the stonewalling Republicans, indifference toward the plight of millions of unemployed American workers, seems to be growing. Such anger could have long-term repercussions and could possibly affect future election outcomes.
Unless the Senate gathers for an extended session, the their last day of deliberations will be on July 2. By then an estimated 1.2 million of the unemployed will have had their unemployment benefits suspended. By the time the senators return, as previously noted, the number of unemployed whose benefits have been suspended could be as high as 2 million.