Congress Plays Politics With Unemployment Insurance

Congress is back from vacation and scheduled to vote Monday afternoon on extending unemployment insurance benefits for an extra four weeks, primarily for people who have been out of work for several months.

The Senate was supposed to pass the bill in late March before Congress broke for its two-week Easter recess, but Republican Sen. Tom Coburn instead pulled a Bunning and opted to blow up the issue into a larger one about government spending. Coburn's office did not return a call Friday asking if the senator has since changed his stance.

Meanwhile, roughly 212,000 people per week have lost their unemployment checks, according to the National Employment Law Project. These unemployed people could receive benefits retroactively should Congress pass this bill, but that's hardly helpful news for those living check-to-check who can't pay their rent or buy groceries.

Out of all of the moments to play politics, this seems like a particularly bad choice. The unemployment rate has not budged from 9.7 percent for the last two months. The 162,000 jobs that the economy added in March primarily came through temporary positions, writes Robert Reich in The Wall Street Journal. Temporary jobs offer no benefits and no insurance. They're are not stable enough to boost consumer spending, or give Americans any sense of economic stability. Given this crappy economic climate, it's surprising that Senator Coburn (the lone GOP vote needed to pass the Democratic-sponsored bill) would identify this moment as the best one to raise his concerns about deficit spending—especially when unemployment benefits so clearly boost the economy because they provide people with money that they, in turn, quickly spend.

Worst of all, the Senate bill only extends unemployment insurance for a month, so there's a good chance America's long-term jobless could find themselves in the same predicament in May.