Republicans again blocked an unemployment benefits extension bill in the U. S. Senate on Thursday, but this time around the reason for doing so might give the public, the jobless who are seeing their benefits suspended, and knowledgeable legislators an inkling as to why members of the GOP continue to block measures that not only will help American unemployed workers maintain their households while they seek employment but will also help prop up a flagging economy. In keeping with their pledge not to consider any legislation other than the Bush tax cuts and federal funding until year's end or until a resolution has been reached, it was the second time in two days that Senate bill S.3981 has been blocked by a member of the Republican Party speaking for the group, according to OpenCongress.org. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) stood on the Senate floor and defended the GOP's unanimous response to the bill, noting that Republicans would not help pass legislation for unemployment extension benefits for workers who had been out of work for 99 weeks or more. But the bill Senator Barrasso was objecting to had nothing to do with 99ers...
Arthur Delaney, who has been covering the unemployment extensions and jobless situation extensively for the Huffington Post, reported that Barrasso said the economy would be best served by Congressional support of lower taxes on businesses. About the bill he was blocking, he said, " This is about people who have been collecting unemployment benefits for 99 weeks."
But the bill before the Senate was not about 99ers (self-descriptive name given those who have seen their regular unemployment, unemployment extensions, and emergency unemployment extensions exhausted) at all. Senate bill S.3981 ("Unemployment Insurance Stabilization Act of 2010"), introduced just last week by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), provides for an extension of both the unemployment benefits extensions and the emergency unemployment extensions (the four-category Tier system that currently make up the extensions that go beyond the regular 26 weeks of unemployment) for up to 73 weeks, depending, of course, on the eligibility of the individual and the state within which their benefits are based. The measure does not make provision for any extensions or relief beyond the 99 weeks of benefits that currently exist (and those 99 weeks are dependent upon individual states' levels of unemployment).
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) immediately corrected Sen. Barrasso, stating that the measure did not call for an unemployment benefits extension beyond 99 weeks. Although there has been talk of a Tier 5 benefits categorization, a Tier currently hoped for by 99ers and introduced in a bill by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in August, that benefits categorization remains nonexistent. " We do not have any extension beyond 99 weeks," Boxer said. "I just wanted my friend to know that."
John Barrasso, corrected, told Boxer he appreciated her comments.
In fairness to Sen. Barrasso, it could be argued that he simply got the two bills confused, even though the Stabenow bill has been shelved for months. But that argument fades quickly when one notes that the senator from Wyoming, in an interview with PBS on Wednesday, displayed the same ignorance for the content of the legislation before the Senate.
"Right now," he said, "we have benefits for people who are out of work up to 99 weeks so this goes beyond that."
Since Sen. Barrasso was chosen to voice the Republican objection to the unemployment extensions bill and showed repeated ignorance of the provisions of "Unemployment Insurance Stabilization Act of 2010," one has to consider that he may not be the only Republican -- or Democrat, for that matter -- that believes something about the current measure that is not factual. Could this mean that the public are again victims of a Congress that isn't taking the time to at least read a synopsis of bills they are legislating?
(Might this reporter suggest, for those Congresspersons that have misplaced their copies of important legislation they are readying to cast votes on, the website OpenCongress.org, which provides a basic summary of bills before Congress, not to mention the full text, if one so desires to read it? Senate bill S.3981 can also be found.)
It wouldn't be the first time that members of Congress passed judgment on measures they knew nothing about. A common complaint during the deliberations on health care reform was that individual legislators and/or members of their staff were unable to read the voluminous measure. And the public saw it with the nearly unanimous passage of the Patriot Act in 2001, where Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) refused to vote for it, because, as he famously pointed out during the Democratic Primaries of 2007, he read it.
Knowing exactly what is contained in the current Senate bill would have gotten the same response from the Republican faction of the U. S. Senate anyway, due to the fact that Republicans have been and continue to demand that bills be offset or paid for with current revenue generators. The current unemployment benefits extension bill does not provide for either. Sen. Barrasso and many of his Republican colleagues have publicly stated that they are not against extending unemployment benefits, just those that are unpaid for or offset in some way.
Unemployment benefits extensions began expiring on December 1. The U. S. Department of Labor estimates that up to 2 million individuals will lose their unemployment benefits before the new year. Regular unemployment lasts for 26 weeks and statistics show that the averaged unemployed worker in the U. S. remains jobless for 34 weeks. As the days and weeks go by without an unemployment extensions package, the number of 99ers (the appellation extends to anyone cut off from benefits after the regular compensation period of 26 weeks) continue to grow.
And now, not only do the long-term unemployed have to worry about a cessation to their benefits in a relatively job-deficient down economy, they also have to worry about legislators passing judgment on measures they know little about.