Within days, Senate Democratic leaders will push forward with a bill — co-sponsored by Senators Jack Reed and Dean Heller — to extend unemployment insurance for a mere three months to the 1.3 million people who were set to lose it just after Christmas. Does the bill have any chance of winning enough Republican support?
There are a number of GOP Senators who are worth watching: those from blue or purple states that also have high unemployment rates, ones that exceed the national rate of 7 percent.
If all 55 Dem-aligned Senators vote for cloture — which is not a certainty, given possible defections among red state Dems, but appears likely — Dems would need at least five Republicans. They already have Heller, from high-unemployment Nevada, and Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are thought to be gettable.
Here are a few blue and purple state Republicans to keep an eye on, with the numbers losing unemployment insurance in their states included:
* Mark Kirk. Illinois (a blue state) had an unemployment rate of 8.7 percent in November, according to the BLS. Over 81,000 people were set to lose benefits, according to a compilation by Ways and Means Dems.
* Rob Portman. Ohio (a swing state) has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, and nearly 40,000 were set to lose benefits.
* Pat Toomey. Pennsylvania (a blue-ish state) has an unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, and over 73,000 were set to lose benefits.
And here are a few Republicans who represent red states with very high unemployment that also bear watching:
* Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. Tennessee’s unemployment rate is 8.1 percent, and nearly 20,000 were set to lose benefits.
* John McCain. Arizona’s unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, and over 17,000 were set to lose benefits. McCain could conceivably pull along fellow Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte.
* Roger Wicker. Mississippi’s unemployment rate is 8.3 percent, and over 13,000 were set to lose benefits.
* Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. Georgia’s unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, and nearly 55,000 were set to lose benefits.
The campaign to pressure Republicans into agreeing to extend UI has essentially amounted to an effort to shame them into it, by highlighting the huge numbers of their own constituents who stand to lose lifelines if they don’t act. Local press coverage has dramatically spotlighted the issue within states, as press compilations by Dems show.
But this doesn’t appear to be working with too many Republicans. Some (such as Rand Paul) are claiming that not extending benefits will ultimately be better for recipients than extending them. Senator Paul is even distorting economists’ findings to make this case. Others are arguing that benefits were always meant to be a “temporary solution to a very temporary crisis,” without reckoning with the obvious reality that the temporary crisis in question, mass unemployment, remains.
If the stats collected by Ways and Means Dems are accurate, in every one of these states, at least 10,000 people — and in some of them, tens of thousands of people — are losing benefits, thanks to inaction by Republican lawmakers.
* WHAT WILL HOUSE GOP DO ON UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS? If the UI extension does somehow pass the Senate, that would presumably increase the pressure on the House GOP to pass something. But as the Hill notes, Senate Dem leaders are not sure whether success in the upper chamber will be enough to prod House Republicans into action.
* HOUSE GOP LEADERS TO MOVE ON IMMIGRATION REFORM? The New York Times goes big with a front page piece claiming John Boehner has “signaled” he’s prepared to move on immigration reform this year. Unfortunately, the evidence presented in the article is thin. But note this:
House Republicans…said they could move on separate bills that would fast-track legalization for agricultural laborers, increase the number of visas for high-tech workers and provide an opportunity for young immigrants who came to the country illegally as children to become American citizens. Although the legislation would fall far short of the demands being made by immigration activists, it could provide the beginnings of a deal.
As noted here recently, it’s possible House piecemeal bills could kick off legislative Ping-Pong with the Senate that could end with something comprehensive. The Times piece could lead to Boehner being questioned about his intentions and remind everyone that it’s his choice whether reform lives or dies.
*OBAMACARE IS MOVING FORWARD, FOLKS: The administration has announced that over six million new people now have access to health insurance (two million in private plans; four million eligible for Medicaid), and the immediate impact on the law’s first day was surprisingly muted:
Hospitals nationwide reported a relatively quiet day, without any surge of newly insured people filling emergency rooms with pressing medical needs. The White House reported no problems. “People are going to be surprised by how little happens” right away, said Ashish Jha, a Harvard University professor who has studied the implementation of the universal health-care law in Massachusetts. “We’re all thinking there will be this new flood of people. And there will be some people with pent-up demand. But I think there’s a lot more slack in the system than we give it credit for.”
As Jonathan Cohn details, a host of unanswered questions and hurdles remain for the law in the near and long term. But the possibility that the politics of Obamacare will shift, now that millions are receiving its benefits, now looks very real. Also see the Post’s editorial calling on administration to mount a sustained publicity blitz designed to prevent further public confusion about the law, which is all but certain.
* MEDICAID’S ROLE EXPANDS DRAMATICALLY: Don’t miss the Post’s excellent overview of the political and policy implications of the Medicaid expansion. Opponents of the law will simply airbrush the millions of people newly eligible for Medicaid out of the picture, focusing only on those who enrolled in private plans, in hopes of making the number of newly insured seem lower. But the Affordable Care Act’s goal was to expand coverage, and the Medicaid expansion is one of the tools it uses to do that.
Also very useful: the Post’s chart detailing the status of each state under the expansion.
* BILL DeBLASIO KICKS OFF NEW PROGRESSIVE ERA: The new mayor of New York City was sworn in yesterday, and the full text of his inaugural address is worth a read. The key is the pledge of specific policies to combat inequality:
“We will ask the very wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so that we can offer full-day universal pre-K and after-school programs for every middle school student….Those earning between $500,000 and one million dollars a year, for instance, would see their taxes increase by an average of $973 a year. That’s less than three bucks a day – about the cost of a small soy latte at your local Starbucks.”
DeBlasio claimed fighting combatting inequality would be his central mission, one that, if successful, will make the whole city stronger. This mayoralty will be closely watched by Democratic activists natioanlly who are trying to push the party in a more economically progressive direction.
* THE LEFT IS RESURGENT: Related to the above: E.J. Dionne argues that the emergence of pols like DeBlasio and Elizabeth Warren heralds a resurgence of progressive populism that could impact the overall debate:
When politicians can ignore the questions posed by the left and are pushed to focus almost exclusively on the right’s concerns about “big government” and its unquestioning faith in deregulated markets, the result is immoderate and ultimately impractical policy. To create a real center, you need a real left.
* AND HERE’S WHAT SNOWDEN HAS ACCOMPLISHED: The Times has a strong editorial calling for some form of clemency for Edward Snowden, running through the whole range of revelations about NSA overreach that we would not know about it if weren’t for him:
Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight….When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government…Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.
If Obama embraces NSA reform, as he probably will, this argument will become harder to resist.