Maybe somebody should do something. (AFP photo/Karen Bleier)
Maybe somebody should do something. (AFP photo/Karen Bleier)

The story of the morning is that Republican Senators who are inclined to support an extension of unemployment benefits may not do so because of procedural reasons. The broader tale here, however, is that more Republicans seem to be searching for reasons to oppose the UI extension that aren’t rooted in ideological opposition.

Initially, Republicans such as Rand Paul were outspoken in arguing an extension would do a disservice to the jobless – Paul Ryan’s Hammock Theory of Poverty. Senator Paul subsequently shifted, and other Republican Senators said their objection was to a lack of an offset, though just enough supported a three-month extension to get it past cloture. Now that Dems have offered a pay-for on an 11-month extension, Republicans are citing procedural objections.

Paul Krugman, in a column about the battle over the War on Poverty, says this overall shift is located in shifting public views of the economy:

[I]f progress against poverty has nonetheless been disappointingly slow — which it has — blame rests not with the poor but with a changing labor market, one that no longer offers good wages to ordinary workers…the problem of poverty has become part of the broader problem of rising income inequality, of an economy in which all the fruits of growth seem to go to a small elite, leaving everyone else behind.

So how should we respond to this reality? The conservative position, essentially, is that we shouldn’t respond…for decades their position was a political winner, because middle-class Americans saw “welfare” as something that Those People got but they didn’t. But that was then…hard times have forced many more Americans to turn to safety-net programs. And as conservatives have responded by defining an ever-growing fraction of the population as morally unworthy “takers” — a quarter, a third, 47 percent, whatever — they have made themselves look callous and meanspirited.

You can see the new political dynamics at work in the fight over aid to the unemployed. Republicans are still opposed to extended benefits, despite high long-term unemployment. But they have, revealingly, changed their arguments. Suddenly, it’s not about forcing those lazy bums to find jobs; it’s about fiscal responsibility. And nobody believes a word of it.

Look at this from another angle. Republicans looking to mitigate political damage in the UI fight have another play in addition to complaining about fiscal responsibility: They think they can win the politics of it by citing the need for an extension itself as an indictment of the Obama economy.

But this strategy seems rooted in a failure to appreciate that many voters see the current economic situation as something extraordinary, as the cause of multiple long running trends that are tilting the playing field against working and middle class Americans. These views of the economy seem to be what are driving rising concerns about inequality, and a majority of the American people want government policies that do something about it. Yet Republicans seem to think they can get muddle through the UI battle with a combination of protestations about fiscal responsibility and blame directed at Obama for the plight of the jobless, a political argument that already failed in 2012. Meanwhile, a similar battle over the minimum wage hike — which is broadly popular — looms next.

Maybe Republicans are right — maybe muddling the UI battle, combined with a relentless focus on Obamacare’s problems, will allow them to get just enough voters in just enough states to give them control of the Senate, without them taking any action on unemployment benefits or the minimum wage. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

* BAD JOBS REPORT COULD SHAKE UP UI FIGHT: Meanwhile, even as Republicans continue holding out against a UI extension, the new jobs report is terrible: Only 74,000 jobs added in December, while the unemployment rate drops to 6.7 percent. Michael Strain sums it up in one Tweet:

Dear Congress:

Please extend UI benefits.

Sincerely,

The December jobs report.

Dear Michael: Sorry, not without more austerity to undercut the recovery. Sincerely, Congress.

* GOP SUCCESSFULLY REFRAMING FIGHT OVER UI: The New York Times has a comprehensive look at why GOP Senators may oppose the UI extension: They are outraged by Harry Reid’s refusal to allow votes on amendments, not just on UI but on other matters, too, which the Times blames on Reid’s “brutish” leadership style. As a result, the Times notes:

an obscure procedural fight is likely to leave up to three million out-of-work Americans without benefits.

As expected, Republicans are reframing the likely demise of the UI extension as the casualty of inside-the-Beltway bickering.

* A DEAL ON UI IS STILL POSSIBLE: CNN reports that two GOP Senators — Rob Portman and Susan Collins — still believe that there may be a compromise possible that balances the GOP demand for amendments with the Dem desire for a pay-for that doesn’t take money out of the economy right now. Both Portman and Collins have vowed to keep working towards a compromise. More on this later, but for now, this headline on the CNN article is worth noting:

Senate negotiations on unemployment benefits hit partisan snag

Yep: It’s all about inside-the-Beltway bickering now.

* IMMIGRATION REFORM STILL ISN’T DEAD, TOP REPUBLICAN SAYS: GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a key player on immigration, says in an interview to be released this weekend that House Republicans will soon roll out a set of reform principles. Crucially, he says they include doing something about the 11 million:

“If we can have a way to get [enforcement] up and operating, I see no reason why we can’t also have an agreement that shows how people who are not lawfully here can be able to be lawfully here — able to live here, work here, travel to and from their home country, be able to own a business, pay their taxes.”

Such a GOP proposal, of course, would stop short of citizenship. But remember: the key here is getting to a point where the House and Senate can play legislative Ping-Pong, which could conceivably get us close to something resembling comprehensive reform.

* WHITE HOUSE PRODS SENATE DEMS ON IRAN: The Huffington Post reports that the administration is upping the pressure on Senate Democrats to back off of plans to imposw new sanctions on Iran, releasing this statement directly accusing them of making war more likely:

“If certain members of Congress want the United States to take military action, they should be up front with the American public and say so. Otherwise, it’s not clear why any member of Congress would support a bill that possibly closes the door on diplomacy and makes it more likely that the United States will have to choose between military options or allowing Iran’s nuclear program to proceed.”

HuffPo also notes that Harry Reid has no plans to bring the bill to the floor soon, so he may be holding the line. Still: There are many Dem Senators unaccounted for. How many oppose this? Why so quiet?

* ANNOUNCEMENT NEAR ON NSA BULK SURVEILLANCE: Peter Baker and Charlie Savage get inside Obama’s process of deliberation on how to respond to the panel’s recent report calling for a major overhaul of NSA bulk surveillance. These are two recommendations Obama is likely to adopt:

One would have telecommunications firms or a private consortium, rather than the government, store vast troves of telephone metadata. Another would establish a public advocate to argue against the government before a secret intelligence court that oversees surveillance.

That won’t satisfy civil libertarians who want other reforms, but if Obama adopts those, it will be a step in the right direction, and show that outside pressure and agitation really can result in reform.

* OBAMA MAY EMBRACE SURVEILLANCE REFORM: The Wall Street Journal adds a crucial nuance: Obama is seriously considering a proposal that would require a court order for the search of meta-data, which (as noted above) would be privately stored. As WSJ notes, it is a high priority for civil libertarians, but is opposed by intelligence leaders — making this a key Rubicon for Obama to cross.

* AND HERE’S THE REAL DEAL ON THE LATEST OBAMACARE FREAKOUT: With some Obamacare foes warning (or hoping) that too few young people are enrolling, perhaps putting the law in jeopardy, Jonathan Cohn brings some much needed context to the discussion. He notes a new analysis showing that the Massachusetts example reveals that young people tend to sign up for coverage late.

As Cohn notes, the law has built in provisions to ensure that premiums don’t get jacked up immediately if the demographic mix isn’t initially ideal, and insurers have incentives to keep them down. So here is another area where the law is likely to improve over time.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.