Unemployment benefits extension freed from Republican filibuster

The United States Senate chambers

Senate Democrats mustered the votes to break a Republican filibuster on an unemployment benefits extension. Wikimedia Commons photo.

An extension of unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans overcame a Republican filibuster in the Senate Tuesday. About 2 million Americans have run out of jobless benefits since legislation stalled at the end of May. The U.S. unemployment rate is stuck at 9.5 percent. There are five times more people looking for work than there are available jobs. Most Democrats say unemployment benefits are an effective way to stimulate the economy. Some Republicans say unemployment benefits discourage people from looking for jobs.

Unemployment benefits escape Republican filibuster

The Senate voted 60-40 to break the Republican filibuster on the unemployment benefits extension. The vote took place minutes after Carte Goodwin was sworn in as the new Democratic senator from West Virginia to replace the late Robert C. Byrd. The New York Times reports that even after the vote, Democrats accused Republicans of needlessly stalling the unemployment extension by using their procedural power to delay the vote by another day rather than allow final consideration. Republicans said Democrats were forced to extend unemployment benefits because their efforts at lowering the U.S. unemployment rate with job creation had failed.

Unemployment benefits extended through November

The legislation extends unemployment benefits through November and retroactively covers people whose benefits have expired. USA Today reports that the House could pass the bill Wednesday and send it to President Obama for signing. Republicans said they wanted to help lower the U.S. unemployment rate, but only if the bill’s $33.9 billion price tag was offset with budget cuts elsewhere. On Monday, Obama accused Republicans of seeking to control federal spending “on the backs of the unemployed” while not demanding a way to pay for extending Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy.

Unemployment benefits and economic recovery

The Congressional Budget Office says extending jobless benefits, which average nearly $310 a week, is the most efficient way for government policymakers to stimulate a weak economy. The unemployed spend their benefits on basic needs such as rent, food, gas and electricity. According to the CBO, every $1 spent on benefits generates 70 cents to $1.90 in economic growth.

Unemployment vote hardens political divide

Obama’s personal involvement in passing the unemployment extension has further hardened Republican opposition to virtually any attempt to govern the country. The Los Angeles Times reports that Tuesday’s Senate vote only increased the political divide in Congress and almost assured that any further domestic aid before November will be nearly impossible. Yet Democrats intend to press forward with new initiatives to promote job creation.

Unemployed Americans used as pawns in a political game

As November’s midterm elections draw closer, Democrats hope legislation like the extension of unemployment benefits will have an effect on job creation and economic recovery — as well as their chances for reelection. Republicans are trying to sabotage any Democratic achievements at all costs, in hopes that a fragile economy will improve their chances to regain control of Congress.

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