In a depressing briefing with reporters, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) charged that Republicans basically are holding back measures to extend unemployment insurance and create jobs in a cynical ploy to help their chances in November by crashing the economy and blaming the Democrats for it.
At issue is the large tax extenders/jobs bill, which has been whittled down consistently over the past few weeks, with Republicans continuing to offer a united front against the bill. Today there will be a cloture vote on the bill, and absolutely nobody believes it will pass. All Republicans and Ben Nelson (one Senate leadership aide said to me “What’s the difference?”) oppose the bill, wanting it to be fully offset with spending cuts or other revenue-raising items.
Senate leadership basically will lay down the bill after that and move on to other items. A small business lending bill would be next. But that means that hundreds of thousands more Americans will see their unemployment benefits run out, that states will get no help from the federal government with their Medicaid programs, that all the job creation measures in the bill will fall. It basically would mean no more stimulus spending for the rest of the year, despite the fragile state of the economy. There are other bills out there, but I can’t see how they would be successful if this bill to extend unemployment, which includes some very popular Republican-pushed tax extensions, ends up failing.
Stabenow, whose state of Michigan has the second-highest unemployment in the country, did not mince words. “The Republicans in the Senate want this economy to fail,” she said bluntly. “In cynical political terms, it doesn’t serve them if things turn around (in the economy).”
Stabenow charged that Democrats have changed the bill over and over to pick up votes from Republicans, and they keep changing the minds on what needs to be cut. As it stands, the only thing in the bill that isn’t paid for is the extension of unemployment benefits, but that has historically been labeled emergency spending in a time of high unemployment. Said Stabenow, “If 15 million people without jobs isn’t an emergency, what is?”
Expressing outrage over the process, Stabenow said that the constant changes asked for by individual Republicans wishing to get on the bill concerned “numerous issues.” She believed that some were protecting the special interests which made up the revenue raisers in the bill: wealthy investors who would pay more in taxes with the closure of the carried interest loophole, corporations who would no longer be given tax incentives to ship jobs overseas, and oil companies, which under the bill would pay 41 cents a barrel into the oil spill liability fund. She said that Democrats tried to cater to the concerns of these Republicans, but it has become clear that they want nothing to pass. “They want our country to fail to win an election, and they’re willing to take the people of this country with them,” she said angrily.
Some observers believe that Democrats are bluffing that this will be the final vote on the bill, but Stabenow resented the implication that this is a game. The bill could theoretically get brought up at any time. Because there’s no budget resolution, and little chance of one, reconciliation is “not a tool we can use right now,” and with time getting short in the session that will probably not be an option down the road, and any threats to use it would be empty. Stabenow said that Democrats are looking at changing Senate rules to make it easier to pass items with less than 60 votes at the beginning of the next session of Congress, but that does little good now.
She asked that people flood Congress with calls demanding these emergency measures get passed. “We need your help,” she said to the blogger-reporters on the call.