One Step Closer to Jobless Benefits

Happy news for the 2.5 million unemployed Americans whose benefits have dried up during Washington's deficit v. stimulus debate: unemployment insurance extension has passed a key procedural hurdle, by a single vote:

A bill that would push back the deadline to file for extended unemployment benefits until the end of November passed a key procedural hurdle in the Senate Tuesday. The vote was 60-40, the minimum margin needed to end debate on the measure.

The bill is dramatically scaled back from the version that died a few weeks ago: smaller checks, no Medicaid funding, no state aid, and so on.

I've said my piece on this issue. I'm willing to concede that Republicans blocked UI for months, not because they subsist on the tears of the jobless, but because they have principled objections to further deficit spending. But this bill adds $34 billion in red ink -- about 0.3 percent of our ten-year debt picture. Compared to the humanitarian prerogative and the macroeconomic argument that jobless bennies stimulate, the deficit burden is minuscule.

For a full explanation of what unemployment insurance is, how it works, and what both sides think about it, please read this "Flashcard" explainer.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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