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Posted by on Jun 24, 2010 in Breaking News, Economy, Politics, Society | 0 comments

Unemployment, the Filibuster, and the Midterm Elections

What happens when you have a political system in which the minority party in Congress can block or kill any legislation they want to — say, oh, a desperately needed economic aid package to extend jobless benefits, help states maintain essential Medicaid services and avoid large-scale layoffs, and more — knowing that (a) if the legislation passes it will be very popular and help the Democrats in the midterm elections; and (b) if it doesn’t pass because Senate Republicans filibuster it to death, most Americans will blame the Democrats and Pres. Obama, NOT the minority party that actually killed it?

This is what happens:

In the hopes of finding a compromise, Dems have repeatedly scaled-back the measure, watering it down and removing worthwhile investments. The GOP has responded by insisting the reductions aren’t enough, and that they still won’t allow a vote.

It now appears Republicans are going to win this fight — and Americans will lose.
… Democrats appear to have lined up 58 votes, but in the Senate, 42 is greater than 58, even when our economic health is on the line.

In the real world, this means millions of jobless Americans will lose their already-modest benefits, and hundreds of thousands of workers will be laid off over the next year, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. All of this will happen because Republicans are more concerned about the deficit — a deficit they created under Bush/Cheney — than the economy.

Actions have consequences — always. But the consequences of what Republicans have done and of what Democrats are allowing them to do will not fall on anyone serving in Congress:

Democratic leaders in the Senate have apparently failed to win enough support to overcome a Republican filibuster of a bill to help the poor, the old and the jobless, despite making a series of cuts to the measure over the past several weeks to appease deficit hawks.

“It looks like we’re going to come up short,” said a senior Democratic aide on Wednesday evening. “It looks like Republicans are prepared to kill aid to states, an extension of unemployment benefits, and ironically, the Republicans are prepared to kill efforts to close loopholes that allow companies to export jobs overseas.”

The legislation, known as the “tax extenders” bill, would reauthorize extended unemployment benefits for people out of work for six months or longer, would protect doctors from a 21 percent pay cut for seeing Medicare patients, and would provide billions in aid to state Medicaid programs.

Come Friday, 1.2 million people will lose access to the extended unemployment benefits, a number that will grow by several hundred thousand every week after that. Fifty million Medicare claims from June are currently in process at the reduced rate, which the AARP says has already caused some of its members to have trouble finding a doctor. And the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that dropping the $24 billion in aid to states will lead to cuts in services and thousands of layoffs, and that spending cuts to close states’ aggregate budget shortfall absent new federal funds in 2011 would lead to 900,000 public- and private-sector layoffs.

This is why the filibuster has such a poisonous effect on public policy:

… The filibuster might not be so pernicious were its impact generally understood by the public, but the intersection of a minority that’s empowered to obstruct and an electorate that holds the majority responsible for policy outcomes is toxic.

Scott Lemieux underscores the point:

The filibuster is indefensible for a whole host of reasons, but this dynamic seems especially difficult to justify. Democratic theory can offer justifications for any number of potentially counter-majoritarian veto points, but it’s hard to imagine circumstances in which it’s a good idea to empower a minority while practically leaving accountability with the majority.

Do click on that link in Scott’s quote — it goes to an older post of his in which he lays out in detail why the notion that the filibuster helps the minority party, whichever one that is, is a myth. In practice, Scott argues, the filibuster has almost always served to advance the most reactionary, narrow interests in Congress and the country.