The Fight Over Unemployment Insurance

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Senate Democrats won a victory on unemployment insurance Monday, overcoming GOP resistance to advance to a vote to extend benefits. (Democrats needed 60 votes to get cloture and end debate; they got it, 60-34.)

At first glance, it's surprising Republicans objected: the last time they opposed an unemployment insurance extension, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) became the face of obstruction, and it did not play well for Republicans. The media had a field day with it, as Bunning had a testy encounter with an ABC reporter on camera in his Senate office building.

There's one, simple thing that's easy to forget here: it's not that Republicans flatly object to extending unemployment benefits, it's that they want it paid for. They want the Senate to adhere more vigilantly to the pay-go rules that Democrats passed earlier this Congress. Democrats, meanwhile, say this is an emergency measure, and that in light of pay-go's emergency clause, the spending rules shouldn't apply. Republicans think it's an "emergency" in that it needs to get done, but not to the point where pay-go should get waived.

Nonetheless, positioning oneself against an unemployment extension, in any fashion, leads to criticisms like this one, from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

America's workers are grateful that the Senate finally overcame Republican obstruction and invoked cloture on a one-month extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits for jobless workers.  It is shameful that such a simple and humane step took so long to implement and that Republican Senators tried to win political points by jeopardizing the lifeline of hundreds of thousands of working families.

And that tends to resonate during a recession.

We'll have this debate all over again next month, even if this temporary extension passes, unless House and Senate Democrats can agree on a long-term extension of benefits (both chambers have passed their own versions, but they're not identical, which means they have to get combined and voted on).

Politically, it seems, Democrats actually reap the benefits from the stalled long-term bill every time this debate comes up, when cable news networks grace the bottoms of American TV screens with headlines about GOP opposition to benefits, and groups like the AFL-CIO put out statements blasting Republicans' callous treatment of the unemployed.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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