San José, CA - On June 24, Republican Senators, along with Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson blocked a vote on extending Federal Unemployment Insurance benefits. After the 57-41 vote to end debate (60 votes are needed in the Senate to stop arguing and start voting), Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada pronounced the measure dead.
More than a half a million jobless workers who were receiving unemployment insurance benefits under the Federal Extended Benefits program have already been cut off, whether or not they received the up to 20 weeks of extended benefits promised under the law. Another 600,000 or more unemployed receiving Federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) have also had their checks cut off. Another 200,000 jobless will lose their EUC benefits each week when they complete the ‘tier’ of benefits (there are four tiers to the EUC, providing additional 20, 14, 13, and 6 weeks of benefits). By the end of November a total of more than five million people will be cut off, or more than half of everyone who was collecting unemployment benefits.
This will leave only 26 weeks, or half a year, of state unemployment benefits, at a time when almost half of all unemployed have been out of work for more than six months. Many state unemployment benefit funds have already run out of money, and are continuing to make payments with loans from the Federal government. There is no way that states can extend their unemployment benefit programs. To make matters worse, the unemployment benefits bill killed by the Senate Republicans also had moneys to aid states with their rising health care costs, forcing states to cut education and health care programs and/or raise taxes.
While almost all the Democrats voted for extending the unemployment benefits, they have refused to use the ‘reconciliation’ rule that would allow them to end debate by a simple majority vote and then pass the extension. The reconciliation rule was designed to pass budget-related bills. The Democrats used the reconciliation rule to pass their health care reform in the spring, while Republicans used this rule to help pass tax cuts for the rich under the Bush administration.
This is a problem for working people. The Republicans are outspoken in support of big business and are willing to push hard on tax cuts to benefit the rich. The Democrats claim to be for working people, but they get their money from the same corporations as the Republicans. The Democrats only want to do enough to get our votes at election time and are not willing to go to the mat on matters like unemployment insurance (health care reform was another matter, with big health insurance and drug companies benefiting from government subsidies). Unfortunately, the whole electoral system is rigged in the interests of corporations and the rich. Working people have to organize ourselves and raise a storm of protest that can force the Senate to pass an extension to unemployment insurance benefits that will last as long as the unemployment rate stays high.