2 million face bleak holidays after Scott Brown blocks jobless benefits
Mass. senator offers compromise plan, but for some benefits receivers it’s already too late
Benefits’ expiry could cost 1 million jobs; ending benefits at 9% unemployment ‘unprecedented’
Scott Brown, the senator from Massachusetts who briefly captured the imagination of the tea party movement when he won Ted Kennedy’s old seat, came under attack from his own constituents Wednesday after blocking a bill that would have extended jobless benefits due to expire this month.
Brown placed a hold on the $56-billion bill that came up on the Senate floor Tuesday, effectively preventing it from coming to a vote before the end of the lame-duck Senate session.
The result is that two million people currently collecting jobless benefits from the federal government will lose their benefits sometime over the next few weeks, depending on the state they live in. In Brown’s home state of Massachusetts, an estimated 60,000 people are expected to lose their unemployment checks this month.
In opposing the extension, Brown said he couldn’t vote for a bill that he had “just found out” about.
“It’s not the way to do business in the United States Senate, and if it is it needs to change,” Brown said. “We just found out today, or late yesterday, that we were even going to talk about this.”
OpenCongress reports that Brown was “acting on behalf of all Republicans.”
The senator offered his own compromise plan, which would see the federal government fund jobless benefits from unspent cash as it becomes available. Although Brown says he had the backing of 21 senators from across the aisle, Democrats blocked his proposal, saying Republicans are being insincere when they oppose benefits for the unemployed while they push for an extension of tax cuts for the rich.
“I think we have to deal with the immediate crisis. I think we have to deal with the families that are struggling today,” said Democratic Sen. Jack Reed.
The New York Daily News reported that Brown’s compromise, even if it had been accepted by Democrats, would not come in time for residents of New York City, some 100,000 of whom face an end to benefits.
“It was too late. The benefits expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday,” the paper reported.
Brown’s move has landed him in the cross-hairs of Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who told a radio audience Wednesday that the benefits’ expiry is “outrageous.”
“This is a question of character, of national character, and I hope that Scott Brown understands it that way and does what needs to be done,” Patrick said.
Responding to the anger, Brown put out a statement Wednesday casting himself as a supporter of the jobless benefits extension. But he said “the decision is not whether we should extend the benefits, it is how should we pay for them. Some of my colleagues want to pay for unemployment benefits by raising taxes or adding to the national debt. I disagree.”
“The compromise bill I introduced last night would extend unemployment benefits for one year, without raising taxes or adding to the national debt,” he continued. “And it would be paid for by using unspent federal funds, some of which have been sitting around for years – and I might add that this is an idea that was supported by 21 of my Democratic colleagues in the Senate just last night.”
A report (PDF) from the Senate’s Joint Economic Committee says that the cumulative effect of two million people losing their unemployment benefits could cost the economy an additional one million jobs, as the unemployed cut back on consumption.
“Ending the federal unemployment program with the unemployment rate well over 9 percent would be unprecedented. Over the past six decades, as the economy has recovered from recessions, the highest unemployment rate at which federal unemployment benefits were cut off was 7.4 percent,” the report states.