Senate to Finally Approve Unemployment Benefits, But at What Cost?

Democrats aren't getting all they'd hoped for

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The Senate is likely to end a stalemate over extending unemployment benefits today. The benefits expired when senators failed to come to an agreement before the Fourth of July weekend. The past two weeks have, accordingly, seen vibrant debate in the blogosphere over the pros and cons of extending the aid. Republicans are concerned about cost, while Democrats argue the spending is necessary to relieve pressure on American families and continue stimulating the sluggish economy. Now it appears Democrats will have the sixty votes needed to break a Republican filibuster, with a new Democratic senator being sworn in to succeed deceased West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd. So should liberals rejoice? Not necessarily, say the bloggers: Democrats won't be getting all of what they want, while the entire debate is colored by the continuing grim predictions for midterms.

  • A Chance to 'Put Things Right'  Liberal Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly appears to be looking forward to an end to the benefits mess. "What [Republican leaders] are demanding," he says--referring to Representative Boehner's suggestion that the Democrats pay for benefits with a corresponding spending cut elsewhere--"has no modern precedent. In recent decades, extended unemployment benefits have either been considered emergency spending, and therefore added to the deficit, or offset with tax increases." In fact, he grumbles, "we're already in unprecedented territory." He quotes The Huffington Post's Arthur Delaney: "Congress has never allowed extended unemployment benefits to lapse at a time when the national unemployment rate is above 7.2 percent."
  • Small Victory  "There's somewhat less to this than meets the eye," writes The Washington Post's Ezra Klein. "[T]he extension won't include the $25-a-week supplement that began with the stimulus, it won't create an unemployment tier for people who've been out of work for more than 99 weeks, and the bill doesn't include any of the state and local relief measures--like Medicaid funding and aid to keep teachers on the job--that were initially envisioned." He argues this shows that "the goalposts have moved," and that stimulus spending is becoming increasingly hard to pass, "even as high unemployment persists."
  • But an Important One  "Nevertheless," writes Annie Lowrey of The Washington Independent in counterpoint, "the unemployment extension comes as a desperately needed lifeline to 2.5 million American families." She points, too, to some economists' expectations that the extension will "have a strong stimulative impact on the economy."
  • Parsing It, Politically  Democrats are being urged to take advantage of improved Senate "dynamics" with the new Byrd replacement, explains Joe Gandelman at The Moderate Voice--particularly since the good times won't last. "If you think you've seen stalemate now, just wait until after the November elections when the Democrats lose some seats-or even, some experts suggest, lose control of the Senate."He does note, though, that a new Gallup poll shows a slight upwards tick for Democrats, while Republican "gains among independent voters ... are now seeing some erosion"
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