Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has stood on the Senate floor countless times in the past several weeks (months?) and monotonously intoned that the Democrats just want to increase taxes and increase the national debt with the passage of their version of the tax loopholes extension and unemployment benefits bill that has been batted around in Congress. The Washington Post reported that McConnell Thursday maintained again that Democrats don’t want to do what’s right but only want to spend now and make the nation’s children and grandchildren pay for the overspending of the present generation. The ridiculousness of his emotional talking points pontificating aside, what Mitch McConnell doesn’t say is a lot. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) should put the unemployment extension provision up for a second standalone vote. Failing that, the two leaders should do whatever it takes to reach a compromise, without stonewalling or ultimatums.
The Senate Minority Leader stood on the Senate floor before and after the third failed effort to stop the Republican filibuster to the now heavily altered American Jobs and Tax Loopholes Closing Act of 2010 and said the same thing, his tiresome mantra that the Democrats only want to increase taxes and increase the national deficit. Senator Mitch McConnell even suggested the Republican version of the bill, which only extends benefits for a month (as opposed to the Democratic version, which makes an extension of unemployment benefits until November), should be voted on, knowing that the Democrats will not consider it because there were no business or investment taxes written into the Republican version (whereas the Democratic version of the bill calls for taxing hedge fund managers and certain businesses).
But Senator McConnell does not note that the Republican version, ably written by Senator John Thune (R-SD), has no revenue increasing taxes. The Democratic version of the bill calls for taxes of certain businesses, on hedge fund managers, and on multinational corporations that do business in other countries. The Republican version protects big business interests, but McConnell does not mention that at all.
McConnell doesn’t mention the numerous tax breaks in the bill, either. Both versions of the overall bill include 60 tax breaks to special interest groups. The tax breaks, the tax loopholes in the title of the bill, amount to $32 billion. Neither party has seen fit to eliminate not one of those tax breaks from either bill.
But a standalone vote on a provision would not require the posturing ridiculousness of the to-and-froing of the debate process. A standalone vote (a procedure where a provision is extracted from a bill and put to a vote on its own merits and which requires only a unanimous vote to pass, as opposed to a 60-40 majority vote like the continually unsuccessful cloture vote) was attempted by Senator Reid last Friday after the Thursday cloture vote.McConnell objected. The Minority Leader countered by suggesting a vote on the Republican version. Reid objected.
In the past week, Democrats have attempted to pare down the once $140 billion “mini-stimulus” bill. They have worked with several Republicans in doing just that. One of the major drawbacks Republicans saw to the Democrats bill was the aid package to states’ Medicaid programs. With the help of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), what was once a $24 billion unpaid-for provision is now a $16 billion provision with $4 billion of it paid for from unused funds from the last stimulus bill.
Still, the Republicans stonewalled the bill, with every Republican that cast a vote recording a “no” vote. Lisa Murkowski (R-AR) abstained.
Republican intransigence in the face of tens of billions of dollars of Democratic compromises heavily toward the Republican “our way or our way” attitude the party has adopted since President Barack Obama took office. Gone are the days of true political compromise on Capitol Hill. The hypocritical stance on the national debt, something the Republican-controlled Congress had no problem with while pushing through deficit-increasing measure after deficit-increasing measure under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, also speaks volumes about the current Republican mindset. And in the setting of a weak and fragile economy that could make a turnaround if given just enough time, the intractability of Republicans could be detrimental to an economic recovery.
Some believe that it is purposeful, that the Republicans are doing everything to make the nation fail, which includes not playing by the usual quid pro quo rules of general politicking.
In the meantime, the unemployed are left without an extension on their benefits. It is estimated that 2 million more Americans will have lost or will lose their unemployment benefits between the first week of June and mid-July, the time when many believe the Senate will again take up the debate.
But a call for another standalone vote, given the seriousness of the situation (another 2 million people without even a partial income or a small supplement to a reduced-income job), might see the measure passed. Republicans and Democrats alike cannot be blind to the growing anger in the general population with regard to their inability to come to an acceptable compromise in order to get an extension on unemployment benefits for the millions who desperately need it.
And those millions have friends and families. Many of those millions vote.
A standalone vote should be called for once more. It is likely Mitch McConnell will object again. He could do so to his and his party’s detriment. Even so, McConnell and the Republicans should counter-offer at least a three-monthextension, if only to give the Senate a break from the debate for awhile. The rest of the American Jobs and Tax Loopholes Closing Act of 2010 can still be debated (although the watering down of the Medicaid provision also tends to hurt most the states where there are more likely to be large numbers of unemployed).
Because even though Democrats have been unwilling to deal in some respects, overall they have been more than accommodating in attempting to move the bill forward. Republicans have only been willing to alter the Democratic plan or offer their own — unaltered. And in the middle of the Republican stubbornness and solid-bloc voting and the Democratic Party’s inability to to move the legislation to enactment, millions lose their homes, their vehicles, their life’s savings, default on loans, have utilities cut off, and suffer other life disruptions because Congress cannot simply agree.
When November comes around and all (or nearly all) Republican candidates, both incumbents and contenders lose their bids for Congress, they might then begin to understand just how serious the issue has become to so many.