Jobless Benefits Defeat Prompts Calls For More Filibuster Reform

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Senate defeat of extended jobless benefits, through refusal to cut off a Republican filibuster against the measure, prompted renewed calls for more filibuster reform.

The Senate voted 58-40 to end debate and move to a final vote on a 3-month extension, retroactive to Dec. 28, of long-term federal jobless benefits.  But benefit backers needed 60 votes to end the Republican talkathon, meaning they needed five Republicans.  They got four, along with all 53 Democrats and both independents.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., initially voted to halt debate, but had to switch his vote to “no,” so he could bring the measure up again in the future.

The GOP demanded the $6.4 billion cost of the benefits be paid for with cuts elsewhere, and Democrats offered methods to do so, but the GOP rejected them.  With 1.7 million long-term jobless having exhausted their benefits, union leaders – who lobbied hard for the measure – were outraged, and the coalition of unions and other groups that forced a prior filibuster reform said it’s time to renew that fight, too.

“The bill fell short by one Republican vote,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  “Just one vote prevented 1.7 million Americans from receiving a desperately needed lifeline.”  The jobless have “worked for years before losing jobs in an economy that isn’t adding jobs nearly fast enough…We urge the House and the Senate to make this right” by extending the jobless benefits.  “And we will not stop fighting until it happens,” he vowed.

Filibuster foes said defeat of the benefits bill emphasizes the need to end all talkathons.  Last year, their pressure forced Reid to eventually jam through a Senate rules change to end filibusters for all presidential nominations and judges, except for Supreme Court justices.   But he kept the 60-vote filibuster threshold for legislation.

“Today’s Senate vote to block an extension of unemployment benefits is another reminder of the real-world consequences of Senate Republicans’ continued abuse of the legislative filibuster,” said Fix The Senate Now, a coalition that Communications Workers President Larry Cohen originally assembled as part of his union’s pro-democracy initiative.  The rest of the labor movement joined the initiative.

“The fact that Senate rules permit an obstinate minority of senators to block assistance to needy families by sitting on their hands and withholding support is an affront both to basic human decency and to our nation’s proud democratic traditions,”  Fix The Senate Now added.

“While we have taken important steps to reform the Senate’s rules for nominations, the Senate’s default requirement of a 60-vote threshold to pass legislation remains an important target for further reforms.  Fix the Senate Now is committed to continuing to push for these reforms to take place in 2014.”

-PIA