President Barack Obama stood in the Rose Garden Monday, according to CNN, and roundly criticized Republicans for the predominant partisan politicking in the past couple months that has held Americans “hostage to Washington politics.” In an appeal to Republicans to help pass the emergency unemployment benefits extension bill up for vote in the Senate Tuesday, Obama called out to Republicans to forego their short-term election goals and do what was best for the American people.
H.R.4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, which has seen much revision and stands as a much lighter bill than was first introduced into the Senate in May, contains the unemployment benefits extension that has been denied long-term unemployment benefits recipients since the first week of June, when the last emergency bill expired. Republicans have mounted four successful filibusters in succession, keeping the bill in debate and denying it from reaching the Senate floor for a simple up-or-down vote. The last vote fell short by one vote, which many believe would have been cast by Senator Robert C. Byrd, had he not died on June 28, two days before the Senate cloture vote.
Republicans have voted in a solid bloc throughout — until the final vote. On the fourth vote, Maine senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats. Also keeping the vote from reaching passage was a lone Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans.
Senator Byrd’s replacement, Carte Goodwin, has been scheduled to be sworn in on Tuesday. The cloture vote is scheduled afterward. Goodwin’s vote is expected to be the 60th vote, the last vote needed for passage.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) issued a statement following President Obama’s remarks. He said that the President knew that Republicans supported unemployment benefits, but they want to curtail deficit spending at the same time. He said that the President’s remarks were “disingenuous” and that Obama should not “attack,” but offer solutions.
In the ongoing battle of political wills on Capitol Hill, disingenuous is not just a matter of ideological spin but a way of life. Still, Obama knows that the Democratic-introduced bill should be passed, barring no desertions among the ranks, in the next couple days and be ready for him to sign by Friday — regardless if any other Republicans cross the aisle. But Obama’s words are also meant as a challenge to Republicans for the upcoming elections. If they choose to desert ranks, they can lose their core following by jumping on the bandwagon. If they choose to continue voting in a bloc, the Democrats will use their voting records against them in the fall campaigning leading to elections.
But what about Congressman Boehner’s words? By shifting blame to President Obama, he takes the onus off of Congress, perhaps even both parties. But is that where the blame should be placed with regard to the non-passage of the unemployment benefits extension legislation?
President Obama has little to do with getting the bill through Congress. He signs or vetoes bills as they come before him. Congress’ inability to produce bills that will pass both chambers can hardly be blamed on the President. And yet, many believe that much of the legislature’s inability to pass a bill is the President’s fault.
Many believe that the President can personally issue an Executive Order to push unemployment extensions forward. President Obama cannot do that for two reasons: 1) The Constitutional authority of appropriating monies is the sole responsibility of Congress, and 2) Obama is not George W. Bush, who issued Executive Orders at a record pace, many of which were later found to be unconstitutional.
But constitutionality and political ideology is cold solace to the millions experiencing unemployment and the lack of unemployment benefits extensions now affecting at least 2 million people since June — extensions that have never been denied the American people as a matter of course until now. Emergency benefits were first doled out in the 1950s and had never not been automatically renewed.
Republicans began stonewalling H.R.4213 in May, noting that the national deficit would become enlarged with the passage of the bill, much of which was not paid for in any way. After shaving off billions of dollars and working with many Republicans to gain their votes, Democrats continued to fail to get a cloture vote. Republicans ignored precedent (the always automatic renewing of emergency unemployment extensions) and their own previous record of profligate spending (during the Bush administration, a Republican-controlled Congress increased the national deficit by over-spending by $5 trillion). But with a Democratic Party-controlled Congress, Republicans suddenly remembered their ideology of fiscal conservative spending and/or budget balancing. They demanded that the latest unemployment provision be a Pay/Go (“pay as you go” or be offset by money-generating provisions) and denied the built-in exception to the Pay/Go system was emergency spending (which had been used extensively during the Bush administration — and continues to be used — to pay for two wars).
Some point to bills offered by Republicans, most of which were paid for or paid for out of unused stimulus money. Stimulus money is “unpaid for” as well. The standalone provision bills that Republicans offered were one, two, and three-month extensions, which would have kept Congress fighting continuously to build another bill (the Democratic-sponsored bill lasts until the end of November). The Republicans best offer, an answer to H.R.4213, was wholly paid-for but it had gutted provisions that would have taxed hedge fund managers, corporations, and income recipients of $250,000 or more.
It is easily seen that disingenuous can be a two-way street, but in the case of H.R.4213, Republicans took both sides of the road, let the Democrats get just so far, erected road-blocks, and made Democrats drive around the block just to get to their destination. But Republicans are saying that the roadblocks would have never been put in place if the Democrats would have simply used one of the impotent vehicles they had chosen for the ride.