Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hanging By A Thread

While most of America continued to freeze on Tuesday, the U.S. Senate saw a small but measurable political thaw on the issue of extending unemployment insurance for over a million Americans.

As Greg Sargent noted, Tuesday's Senate vote was a small but surprising step forward but there's still a very long way to go. Chris Cillizza agreed with Sargent: Six Republicans voting to join with Democrats in moving the bill forward was a shocker, even if the vote was only to allow the Senate to debate the bill, and wasn't a vote over the actual bill itself.

Still, considering the Republicans in this Congress, we'll take almost any action even resembling good governing practices. Suggestions by some of the more extreme Republican members of Congress, to some of their own constituents who still can't find a job after a long and fruitless search, have effectively boiled down to "go find a set of rafters and an ugly tie."

Some Republicans in the House have become so detached from the concerns of the millions of suffering, unemployed Americans who want jobs, that their own Republican House leadership had to send out a memo this week coaching GOP House members on how to talk - and how NOT to talk - about unemployment. Still, that memo is small progress.

Greg Sargent also noted another sign of progress on Tuesday that a growing number of Republicans in Congress seem to be softening their approach to the unemployed with a more realistic and less disgusting position than "go hang." Those Republicans now seem to have finally changed their tune from insisting the unemployment insurance extension isn't necessary to accepting they'll need to find a way to pay for it.

For those progressive and liberal Democrats who have a decent memory, this pattern of refusal followed by acceptance should ring a bell, as Republicans and Democrats danced similar steps four years ago, when Congress let unemployment insurance lapse around the holiday season in 2010.

Then, like now, some pundits were saying Republicans had never refused to extend unemployment insurance when the unemployment rate was in it's current position. Of course, as Arthur Delany of the Huffington Post reported back then, and as we noted at the time, Republicans have indeed been convinced to extend UI before, when Democrats were able to push them into finding money in the budget for it.

So the problem is obviously not that Republicans can't be convinced to help their fellow Americans.

As Josh Barro noted yesterday in Business Insider, the real problem is that modern Republicans don't actually have an anti-poverty agenda. In fact, as Barro notes further, Republicans don't currently have any realistic plans that would address the major economic issues facing the majority of Americans.

Even if they did have ideas, as Danny Vinik points out, the extremism of the screaming far right has painted the current Republican Party into a corner, and politically emasculated them to the point where they couldn't help struggling poor and middle-class Americans even if they wanted to.

That some few Republicans - at least six in the Senate - are even willing to try to buck their party to help those desperately struggling Americans is at least a small sign of progress.

For now, that small success is what Americans have to hang their political hopes on.

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