Bleeding heart liberal squish. (Reuters/Toby Melville)
Bleeding heart liberal squish. (Reuters/Toby Melville)

With a crucial Senate vote set for today on the Democratic plan to extend jobless benefits, Republicans continue to offer one reason after another for opposing the extension. At this point, their rationales are all over the place.

Oddly, though, it has fallen to a Republican Senator to reveal just how flimsy GOP reasoning on the issue has become. On Face the Nation yesterday, Marco Rubio declared that there is a “general consensus” that jobless benefits should be extended. If true, this is certainly welcome news. But note how Rubio said this. Asked by CBS’s Bob Schieffer if there is any way Congress might pass an extension, the Senator said:

“I do think there is an outcome that we can arrive at. And if you look at it, I there is a general consensus that these programs need to be extended, but they need to be paid for.  And in addition to that, maybe not as part of this effort right away, but in the long term we need to figure out way to reform those programs so that we get more people back to work.”

Elsewhere in the same interview, Rubio, speaking in general about federal anti-poverty programs, said: “As far as the war on poverty is concerned, its programs have utility; they do help alleviate the consequences of poverty, but they don’t help people to emerge from that poverty.”

Taken together, these statements are useful additions to the debate. Their logical implication is that even if you think programs like UI need to be overhauled for the good of poor people themselves, that still isn’t an argument against extending UI right now. After all, programs like these “help alleviate poverty” in the short term. Those who care about helping poor Americans should support a temporary extension — to alleviate short-term economic suffering – while eying broader reforms for later.

The problem with the new GOP poverty agenda has been that Republicans have not convincingly explained why, if they are genuinely interested in helping poor people over the long term, they continue advocating for policies that will have an immediate punitive impact on them. As Jonathan Cohn explains, Republicans such as Rubio who are crafting a new poverty agenda do not believe that the solution is to simply slash the federal safety net. They want to replace it with conservative policies such as devolving anti-poverty programs to the states. But then surely getting rid of that safety net by ending a lifeline like UI right now, before a conservative vision can be implemented, should also be a nonstarter.

Jonathan Chait asks the right question: “If Republicans care so much about the poor and unemployed, why inflict further misery on them right now while the party leisurely draws up a grand new vision for the welfare state?” Rubio’s quotes effectively lay bare this niggling logical flaw.

Meanwhile, Republicans continue to offer one justification after another for opposing the UI extension. Some say continued job growth, even if it’s sluggish, lessens the pressure to act. House GOP leaders continue to suggest they will demand things like approval of Keystone and repeal of the medical device tax in exchange for backing a UI extension. And Rubio and other Republicans may still vote No on the grounds that they don’t like the Dem pay-for. But whatever the reason, by Rubio’s own lights, they will be voting against “alleviating the consequences of poverty,” which is to say, against alleviating economic misery.

* HOW WILL REPUBLICAN SENATORS VOTE TODAY? Six Republican Senators voted for cloture on the initial three-month UI extension, but they are mostly saying they can’t support the bill in the end if they are unhappy with how it is paid for. Well, now Dems have offered a pay-for. here are those Senators, and the unemployment rate in their states as of November:

* Dean Heller. Unemployment rate in Nevada: 9 percent.

* Rob Portman. Unemployment rate in Ohio: 7.4 percent.

* Dan Coats. Unemployment rate in Indiana: 7.3 percent.

* Lisa Murkowski. Unemployment rate in Alaska: 6.5 percent.

* Susan Collins. Unemployment rate in Maine: 6.4 percent.

* Kelly Ayotte. Unemployment rate in New Hampshire: 5.1 percent.

* REPUBLICANS ARE “ENEMIES OF THE POOR”: Paul Krugman’s column gets to the heart of what’s wrong with the new GOP poverty agenda: To help the poor, you have to spend more money on the safety net, and GOP ideological opposition to spending, let alone paying for it with taxes on the rich – along with the professed belief that the safety net hurts poor people — make doing this impossible.

Republicans weren’t always like this. In fact, all of our major antipoverty programs — Medicaid, food stamps, the earned-income tax credit — used to have bipartisan support. And maybe someday moderation will return to the G.O.P. For now, however, Republicans are in a deep sense enemies of America’s poor. And that will remain true no matter how hard the likes of Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio try to convince us otherwise.

The GOP poverty agenda right now includes opposing expanding Medicaid to millions of people; advocating for $40 billion in cuts to food stamps; and near-party-wide opposition to extending unemployment benefits.

* BATTLE OVER IRAN COMING IN SENATE: Iran and six world powers announced yesterday that the six-month deal to halt Iran’s nuclear program while easing of sanctions will now take hold. That all but ensures that the battle over whether Senate Democrats and Republicans will succeed in imposing new sanctions — which the White House says will derail diplomacy and make war more likely — will come to the fore.

At last count, 58 Senators now support this bill — including 16 Democrats — putting it very close to the 60 it will need to pass, and likely making a presidential veto necessary. Ten Democratic committee chairs have come out against the bill. But where is the rest of the Dem caucus?

* DISLIKE OF OBAMA HURTS DEM CHANCES IN ARKANSAS: The Associated Press has an interesting look at the Arkansas Senate race, which is shaping up as a battle over whether Republicans can successfully cast Mark Pryor as a rubber stamp for the Obama agenda. Note this from a local political reporter:

“As long as Barack Obama is in the White House, it’s going to be hard for anyone in Arkansas with a ‘D’ next to his name.”

Since Republicans need to knock off a string of Dem incumbents to take back the Senate, the question of Pryor family’s deep roots in the state will outweigh dislike of Obama – as well as the extremism of GOP challenger Tom Cotton – are emerging as critical to Dem hopes of holding their majority.

* A HOUSE RACE TO WATCH: The special election for Florida’s 13th District is being widely touted by both sides as a “bellwether” as to the political mood heading into the 2014 midterm elections. However, it’s looking more and more like the Democrat may well win the race.

* AND CHRISTIE FACES FEDERAL PROBES: You’d think that after bridge-gate, the news couldn’t possibly get worse for Chris Christie, but CNN scoops:

CNN has learned that federal officials are investigating whether Christie improperly used those relief funds to produce tourism ads that starred him and his family…federal auditors will examine New Jersey’s use of $25 million in Sandy relief funds for a marketing campaign to promote tourism at the Jersey Shore after Sandy decimated the state’s coastline.

This comes as the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey is looking into bridge-gate. By the way, E.J. Dionne’s column today really nails it on the questions Christie failed to answer at last week’s clean-up presser.

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.